Gougeon joins Wishart and Swinney at meeting with Perthshire fruit farmers
Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, joined Pete Wishart MP and John Swinney MSP at a meeting with local farmers and industry representatives to discuss the current challenges facing the agricultural sector. This morning’s meeting (19 May) took place at Johnstone Farm in Alyth, hosted by local farmers Rowan and Jennifer Marshall. Representatives from NFU Scotland and Angus Growers were also in attendance.
A range of issues were discussed at the meeting, which came at a time when fruit farmers in Scotland are facing unprecedented economic challenges. The politicians heard how the berry industry in particular is facing astronomical rises in cost in all areas, including energy, supply chain, fuel, production, raw material costs and labour, which is having a critical impact on the viability of local famers’ businesses.
Also discussed was the deficiencies in the UK Government’s Seasonal Worker visa scheme. Farmers shared their experiences with the scheme, which was said to be insufficient in meeting the demand for seasonal workers. They went on to explain how the cost and complexity of the scheme disincentives both the employer and potential applicants at a time when time when the sector is facing acute labour shortages, which is jeopardising crop production.
Some of the farm’s foreign employees also shared their positive experiences of working there, but stressed the difficulties they faced with the costs and red tape required to get to the UK initially.
Commenting, Mr Wishart said:
"Today’s meeting was extremely useful in understanding the full extent of the challenges facing the agricultural industry, both locally and nationally. What is evident is that the UK Government’s onslaught of anti-migration policies ever since Brexit has brought the sector to its knees.
“These policies, combined with the Tories’ cost-of-living crisis that has sent production costs spiralling, has created a real crisis in the sector which is only set to worsen without a radical change to the UK Government’s attitude towards seasonal workers.
“Agriculture accounts for a huge part of my constituency’s local economy, and while farmers are doing everything they can to mitigate these hostile policies, their businesses simply cannot function properly without enough workers.
“I will now be raising all of the points discussed directly with the UK Government. Particularly, I will be calling for an urgent review of the Seasonal Worker visa scheme as well as highlighting the perilous situation we face if the Home Office fails to make it easier and cheaper for migrants to come to work on our farms.”
Also commenting, Mr Swinney said:
"I was pleased to meet with local farmers and stakeholders today, and to discuss the very significant challenges facing Scottish farmers. I was also grateful that Mairi Gougeon MSP was able to attend this meeting, and for her willingness to engage with my constituents.
"It is clear that the UK Government's hard Brexit, along with their hostile approach to immigration, is having a hugely damaging impact on farmers across Perthshire. We are seeing fresh fruit rotting on the vine because we simply do not have the necessary labour to work on our farms.
“As representatives of NFU Scotland have made clear, the UK Government must step away from their damaging ideological opposition to migration and put in place policies that actively help our agriculture sector and ensure that it is given the necessary support to flourish in a difficult economic environment.
“By contrast, the Scottish Government will continue to stand up for farmers and ensure that it does everything possible with its limited powers to support this vital part of our economy.”