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The political landscape and future negotiations with Europe may be shrouded in uncertainty, but a new report warns there is no doubt that a hard Brexit would crush the British soft fruit industry.

Over the past 20 years, soft fruit production in the UK has grown by 131% — largely as a result of an increase in home-grown strawberries — and the industry is now worth more than £1.2 billion. What was once a fleeting treat, to be enjoyed for the few weeks around Wimbledon, has almost become a staple supermarket buy.

But Brexit is already exacerbating a worrying shortage of the seasonal labour needed to tend and harvest strawberries and other soft fruit, and MPs have been warned that losing access to European workers will have a “disastrous and cataclysmic” impact on the industry.

Experts warn that consumer prices could soar by up to 50% and with soft fruit now accounting for almost a quarter (22%) or one in every £5 spent on fruit, this will undermine the five-a-day healthy eating campaign.

Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, the industry body which accounts for 97% of all berries supplied to UK supermarkets, warns: “This is as extreme as it gets. If we do not have the pickers, we do not have a soft fruit industry.”

He says: “It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry. And there is no let-up in the demand. Sales continue to increase year-on-year. 

“But if we cannot ensure access to the seasonal workers needed to produce soft fruit in Britain, that will be an unintended consequence of Brexit — along with soaring prices and increased reliance on imports.”

His concerns have been echoed by key grower Harry Hall, of Hall Hunter Partnership, who warns: “Britain has a thriving, fast expanding berry industry, growing the best berries in the world. We should be driving it forward in or out of Europe. There is no doubt that if the Government chooses to stop the 29,000 hard-working migrant labour force from working on our farms and Nurseries it will be an unfathomable and astonishing form of national self-harm.”

British Summer Fruits commissioned Andersons the Farm Business Consultants to produce an independent report outlining the issues, and it paints a bleak picture of a future without access to EU labour.

The Impact of Brexit on the UK Soft Fruit Industry, a report by John Pelham (The Andersons Report), predicts:

Prices for strawberries and raspberries will rise by 35 to 50%
A slump in Government revenue from income tax, corporation tax and National Insurance
Falling soft fruit consumption
Less soft fruit being grown in the UK
Soft-fruit growers going out of business
Significantly reduced food self-sufficiency
A negative shift on the UK’s balance of payments as a result of increased imports

Soft fruit growers employ around 29,000 seasonal workers a year — but British workers do not want these jobs. A House of Commons Committee of MPs investing the issues reported: “A core problem for the sector is its difficulties in attracting UK staff.”

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee was told that in Herefordshire, for instance, four large farms growing soft fruit and asparagus required 3,400 staff, but there were only 769 registered jobseekers.

As a result, around 95% of seasonal workers currently come from the European Union, primarily Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, and demand is expected to rise to around 31,000 by 2020 if the industry continues to grow as it has.

If access to seasonal workers cannot be ensured, we could see fruit being left unpicked in fields or growers moving their operations to countries with a ready supply of labour.

However there is a simple solution — a Seasonal Agriculture Permit Scheme which would allow labourers from Europe to enter the UK on fixed-term contracts to fill the jobs UK citizens shun.

Permit schemes have worked in the past. The Seasonal Agriculture Workers Scheme (SAWS) was in place from 1948 to the end of 2013. In its final year, there were 20,521 Seasonal Agriculture work cards were issued across 514 farms — and SAWS workers were all counted in, and counted out.

Alison Capper, Chairman of the National Farmers Union’s Horticulture Board, argues:“Farmers and growers need a commitment from government that they will have access to the workforce they need up to, and after we leave the EU. It’s vital that the crucial importance of migration for low-skilled work is recognised. Until now, high skilled migration has received priority treatment. We challenge why this should be the case, when vital sectors of the economy – such as food and drink – rely heavily on large numbers of EU workers.”

Former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Angela Leadsom was in favour, saying: “Before we joined the EU we had a very good programme of seasonal workers' licences and it is not beyond the wit of man to have such a thing in future.”

However, the position of her successor and Leave campaigner, Michael Gove, is less clear. He is on record as saying. “One of the things that I envisage is, after we leave the European Union, EU citizens will be able to move freely into the UK. It is just they won’t have the same rights to work.”

Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits says, “As an industry, we believe the need for Seasonal Workers Permit Scheme has been identified. If we are going to be out of the Single Market by 2019 we will need a Seasonal Workers Permit Scheme agreed by September 2018 to allow us to hire people before we leave the Single Market. Without it, an incredibly successful soft fruit industry, which contributes millions of pounds to the UK economy, will be crushed.

“Failure to secure the future of soft fruit production in the UK will have a negative impact on the economy, family budgets, the nation’s health, UK food security and the environment.

“As an industry, we need assurances that Seasonal Workers Permit Scheme will be introduced, that there will be enough permits issued to meet the rising demand for labour.”

Ends –

For the full report please see below:

>> How Brexit Could Crush The Soft Fruit Industry

>> The Impact of Brexit on the UK Soft Fruit Industry - The Anderson Report

For more information on the soft-fruit industry, spokespeople interviews, the full report, and imagery assets, please contact:

Chelsea Gray
Red Brick Road
T: 0207 575 7623
M: 07972488509
E: Chelsea.gray@redbrickroad.com

Isla Haslam
Red Brick Road
T: 0207 575 7675
M: 07572448113
E: isla.haslam@redbrickroad.com

About British Summer Fruits
British Summer Fruits is an industry trade body which represents 97 percent of berries supplied to UK supermarkets. 

Berries now make up a remarkable 22 percent of all fruit sold in the UK, pushing the value of the berry industry above £1.2 billion. Where apples and bananas were once the traditional, staple fruit, fresh berries are now the most popular fruit item in shoppers’ baskets. (Kantar data)

Over the past year, more than 126 000 tonnes of strawberries were sold in the UK, with shoppers spending more than £580 million. And the consumption of fresh berries, which includes strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, has grown by an impressive 132 percent since 2007, outstripping the 49 percent increase of fruit consumption as a whole. (Kantar data)

About John Pelham
John Pelham is one of the founding Partners of the Andersons Midlands practice, which offers high-quality, impartial, independent advice to the agricultural and horticultural sectors on a range of issues from strategy and business development. He has a specialist knowledge of top and soft fruit production as well as experience consulting for charities, government, and the public sector.


The Anderson Brexit and Seasonal Labour Report, Andersons Midlands LLP.

Kantar data

Kantar data, on file

EFRA Committee report; Feeding the nation: labour constraints, paragraph 5

Oral evidence to EFRA Committee, February 8, 2017



The British weather may have tried its best to put a dampener on British crops, but this year’s ‘home-grown’ strawberries are set to be even sweeter and tastier than ever.

British growers and farmers have reported that the short delay to the start of the season, caused by cooler weather, has resulted in stronger plants. This, in turn, will help boost the size of the fruit and sugar levels, making British strawberries sweeter and juicer than normal.

British Summer Fruits, the organisation representing 85 per cent of the growers supplying berries to UK supermarkets, reports that the sweetness of strawberries is measured in degrees Brix (Bx), which represents the density or concentration of sugar in a solution. In the first week of the season, strawberries need to achieve a minimum of seven degrees Bx. This spring strawberry growers are already reporting higher Brix levels, with some samples above 10 degrees Bx.

Growers have also reported an increase in the size of strawberries this year, with fruit up to 15 per cent bigger, deeper punnets are being used to protect the ripe, plump strawberries.

Laurence Olins, Chairman of British Summer Fruits, said: "Strawberries are a British staple of the early summer season. It may have been a later start to the British strawberry season, but there will be a good supply of British strawberries for everyone to enjoy.”

Twenty years ago, poor weather conditions might have meant disaster for commercial strawberry growers, but following decades of investment in protective covers and new varieties, this summer’s strawberry crop is thriving.

Production is expected to exceed last year’s 51,626 tonnes of strawberries supplied to UK supermarkets by members of British Summer Fruits.¹


¹ British Summer Fruits Ltd Supermarket Sales Report, November 2012
² Defra Basic Horticultural Statistics 2012

For more information on British strawberry season, spokespeople from the soft fruit industry or strawberry recipes, please contact:

Chelsea Gray
Red Brick Road
T: 0207 575 7623
M: 07972488509
E: Chelsea.gray@redbrickroad.com

Notes to editors –

About Seasonal Berries:
British Summer Fruits is an organisation that represents 85% of berries supplied to UK supermarkets. It funds Seasonal Berries – a year-round campaign that celebrates the seasonality of soft fruits.www.seasonalberries.co.uk

British berry sales have more than doubled in 10 years, reaching £779m in 2012.

• Strawberries were cultivated by the Romans as early as 200 BC. In medieval times strawberries were regarded as an aphrodisiac and soup made of strawberries, borage and soured cream was traditionally served to newly-weds at their wedding breakfast
• In the sixteenth century strawberries were sold in cone-shaped straw baskets, thus becoming one of the earliest packaged foods
• Strawberries were used medicinally to help with digestive ailments, discolored teeth and skin irritations

• Just 9 strawberries (108g) provides your recommended daily amount of vitamin C
• Strawberries are low in calories, sugar and contain no fat so are an ideal everyday health snack to enjoy straight from the punnet or in a variety of recipes


‘Elsanta’: An established Dutch variety, which are large, firm and glossy and widely available in the UK.

‘Sonata’: Slightly juicier and with a sweeter taste than Elsanta, Sonata strawberries are generally bigger and likely to be heart-shaped.

‘Sweet Eve’: Crops well throughout the summer, and higher in natural sugar than other varieties.

‘Driscoll’s Jubilee’: Perfect heart-shaped variety with naturally sweet taste and disitinctive fresh aroma.

‘Ava Rosa’: A Scottish berry launched this year characterised by large, full colour berries with a very sweet flavour.

‘Red Glory’: A high yielding variety producing medium-sized, conical, glossy, orange/red fruit.

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