Scottish farm produce in danger

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Less Scottish fruit and vegetables could be produced as a result of the introduction of the national living wage, farmers have warned.

Now the National Farmers Union (NFU) has called on retailers to recognise the pressure on vegetable and soft fruit growers from the national living wage, due to come in to force in April.

Specialist growers say they face having to pay the national living wage to all workers because Scotland has retained the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board (SAWB), while in England the wages board has been abolished and the living wage will apply only to those over 25 years of age.

NFU Scotland Chief Executive Scott Walker said: “Our members are committed to paying fair wages, but that has to be set against the unfairness of having a parallel employment system which only applies to Scottish agriculture. All this will have an impact on how competitive our growers are when it comes to putting fresh produce on the shelves.

“Growers in Scotland compete directly with farm businesses in England as well as the rest of Europe and wages can represent more than 40 per cent of the operating costs of such a business. The living wage will see any profit margin eliminated unless Scottish growers can recover the extra cost they face through the products they sell.”

He warned: “If this doesn’t happen, then there will be less Scottish fruit and vegetables produced.

“Farmers and growers know that to attract skilled and dedicated workers – whether permanent or seasonal – they need to pay a wage that is competitive. The dysfunctional supply chain, and the price pressure being heaped on all farm businesses at this time makes attracting and keeping staff a genuine challenge as the rewards for the risk involved in farming are simply not there.

“The supply chain needs to recognise that what they pay for farm produce is the biggest determinant of what a business can afford to pay its staff and any sensible sourcing commitment from retailers needs to address this issue.”

Mr Walker also said that the Scottish Government needed to “declutter the employment legislation around farming.

“We simply want to see agricultural businesses treated in the same way as all other employers. The existence of SAWB places Scotland at a serious competitive disadvantage. This is particularly keenly felt in the field vegetable and soft fruit industries, which employ substantial numbers of seasonal agricultural workers and who compete directly with farm businesses in England as well as the rest of Europe.”