Ministers are discussing with farming leaders the possibility of reviving a version of the SAWS scheme after Brexit to meet the need for migrant labour in the fruit and vegetable sector. Some producers have considered relocating abroad. A farmer in Suffolk recently placed on hold an order for £500,000 worth of cherry trees because of uncertainties about Brexit.
Planting and harvesting these crops is labour intensive and hard, monotonous work. About 75,000 workers a year are needed as British workers are reluctant to do the work. It's temporary and they would lose most of their benefits. Replacements such as robots are a long way off.
The seasonal agriculture workers (SAWS) scheme, which allowed people to come to Britain for six months to pick fruit and vegetables, operated for sixty years until 2013. It is felt that a larger and more flexible scheme is needed so that labour could be recruited from anywhere in the world. It is estimated that 90,000 workers will be needed by 2019.