The UK has a much, much smaller agriculture industry than the US, but it works in fairly similar ways: Britons are unwilling to perform the generally low-paying, physically demanding, often nomadic work of growing food, and so immigrants come in to do it instead. As in the US, British agriculture has large companies that recruit labor from abroad and supply them to farms as needed. In the US, those workers tend to be from Mexico and Central America; in the UK, they’re primarily from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, as the Washington Post notes.
Relaxed laws a few years back permitted basically unfettered waves of Europeans from certain countries, especially Bulgaria and Romania, to come to the UK, largely to work on farms picking labor-intensive products like strawberries. Those migrants are, according to farmworkers and labor supply companies, having serious second thoughts about returning to the UK this year – even if they’re legally granted access to come back.
Negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU are still ongoing, but little has been said about provisions for agricultural workers. And with rising anti-immigrant fervor – in addition to a weak pound – farmers are concerned that farmworkers will have little interest in returning to the UK for the upcoming growing season. Why would they? Their services are in demand throughout Western Europe. Why come to a country that appears to not want them at all? As a result, farmers fear that they’ll be unable to continue to make a living. Farmers need farmworkers.
Donald Trump has said little about his own plans for implementing the protectionist ideals that got him elected. But Latin American farmworkers already fear the worst. Trump could repeal DACA, an Obama-penned executive order which granted legal status and a work permit to those who arrived illegally prior to their 16th birthday. Trump has vowed to deport between two and three million undocumented immigrants. (You can read more about Trump’s potential effect on immigrant farmworkers here.)
Farmers in the UK fear strawberries rotting in fields, with nobody to pick them. And the UK has only about 80,000 immigrant farmworkers. The US has an estimated 1.75 million undocumented immigrant farmworkers. Without sensible plans and a change in tone to recognize the vital role immigrants play in the economy, we could soon be reading about dying farms right here at home.