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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 15:12 GMT
Farmers 'rely' on migrant labour
Farmers depend on foreign workers to pick their crops each year
Farmers in the South East employing foreign workers to pick crops and pack produce could lose out if there is no limit to the number of legal migrants coming to Britain.

Sussex-based Concordia provides work for foreign students under the government-sponsored Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme (SAWS).

Around 25,000 students come to Britain each year to work on 500 farms nationally - around 6,000 of them are employed on some 300 fruit, vegetable, salad and flower farms across the South East.

On Thursday, Home Secretary David Blunkett said there should be "no obvious limit" to the number of legal immigrants coming to the UK, because they brought economic benefits.

'Steep decline' in local labour

But Christine Lumm, executive director of Concordia, said she feared the agricultural industry could lose out because it could only offer seasonal work as opposed to full-time.

Many farms across Kent and Sussex rely on the part-time labour offered by legal migrants.

Clive Baxter, who runs two apple farms at Linton, near Maidstone, said the main problem in the South East was the high housing costs coupled with the "steep decline" in local labour.

He said his farms were "now 80% dependent on Eastern European labour", which was supplied through Concordia.

"We do depend on it," Mr Baxter emphasised.

The National Farmers' Union said the shortage of local labour was an issue of major concern.

Shaun Leavey, regional director for the South East, said Mr Blunkett was "failing to address" the issue of illegal immigrants.

Mr Leavey said: "We desperately need people to come and offer themselves legally to pick crops.

"People in high unemployment need to be motivated to do this kind of work."

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