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June 22, 2017

Imagine unpicked produce literally rotting on British farms. That’s the picture painted in a recent article by the Washington Post, suggesting that a significant drop in seasonal migrant workers coming to the UK thanks to the Brexit vote could have a drastic impact on British farmers’ ability to harvest their crops.

The statistics are certainly unsettling. “A recent survey by the National Farmers Union (NFU), an industry lobby group, found that 47 percent of the companies that provide agricultural labor said they did not have enough workers to meet demand between June and September of last year,” the Post writes. That seasonal workforce is typically about 80,000 people strong, mostly arriving from Eastern Europe, but as one recruitment agency stated, its Romania office saw 40 percent fewer people inquiring about British farming jobs compared to this time last year, before the Brexit vote passed.

A number of aspects of Brexit both actual and hypothetical are keeping migrants away. Strictly from a legal standpoint, some potential workers are worried about what may happen to the UK’s immigration policies as the country negotiates its break from the EU. On an even more disheartening note, Brexit has also ramped up fears about British xenophobia as well. “It’s enough to have a few people that have bad experiences, and they put it on Facebook or Twitter, and it’s enough to push so many people away,” said Estera Amesz, co-founder of AG Recruitment, the same company seeing the precipitous drop at its Romania office.

But a somewhat unintended Brexit consequence is that the value of the pound has plummeted post vote, losing 11 percent of its value against the euro. “[Foreign laborers] do not have to come and work in the UK,” Helen Whately, a British politician was quoted as saying. “They are in demand across the whole European Union.” A weakened pound could make sticking with a country on the euro more appealing.

UK government officials claim they are working to address the problem, but at least one farmer sounded weary. “The government has so much to think about at the moment, and perhaps 80,000 seasonal workers isn’t at the top of the list,” said Chris Chinn, an asparagus farmer. “But it has the potential to be catastrophic for our industry. If we don’t have staff, we can’t harvest those crops.”

The next time you order fish and chips in the UK, you may have to go pick your own mushy peas.

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