Business

Brexit: North’s mushroom industry under threat due to end of free movement, trade body warns

The Mushroom Growers Association said farms in the north have been left in “a desperate situation which is not of their making”.

The Mushroom Growers Association has warned the industry could disappear in the next few years if the UK Government doesn't make it easier for migrant workers to arrive here.
The Mushroom Growers Association has warned the industry could disappear in the next few years if the UK Government doesn't make it easier for migrant workers to arrive here.

THE north’s £64.5 million mushroom industry could disappear in the next few years due to the loss of free movement of workers post-Brexit, a trade body has warned.

The Northern Ireland Mushroom Growers Association (NIMGA), which represents eight of the north’s 10 remaining mushroom farms, said local firms have a vacancy rate of almost 16 per cent.

It has called on the UK Government to add mushroom pickers to its shortage occupation list (SOL) to address the gap.

The list includes occupations where there is a shortage of suitable skilled labour in the UK, making it easier for employers to source migrant workers through a skilled work visa.

The north’s mushroom industry is responsible for producing 10 per cent of all mushrooms sold across the UK and accounts for 40 per cent of horticultural output in Northern Ireland.

There are around 723 people now employed full-time within the industry, with more than 300 employed in the supply chain.

Approximately 95 per cent of workers come from EU member states.

NMGA chair, Frank Donnelly said efforts to recruit local workers has not produced the numbers required to meet the demand.

“We are currently sitting with a vacancy rate of 15.8 per cent, which ultimately drives costs up and means we are not able to be as competitive as growers in other regions,” he said.

“The challenge of recruiting local workers to the sector is not unique to Northern Ireland. The horticultural industry across the world has similar challenges, however what is unique to this region is that governments in other jurisdictions have stepped in to create more favourable visa conditions to attract workers from other countries.

“For example, the Irish Government introduced a Rest of the World visa for workers in some industries (including horticulture) to come and work for up to five years. This is on top of the access to labour from other EU member states through freedom of movement.

“With 95 per cent of our workers coming from EU member states, and the end of freedom of movement because of Brexit, farms in Northern Ireland have been left in a desperate situation which is not of their making,” said the association chair.

“Our farms are resilient but the cumulative impact of the lack of access to labour, rising business costs as well lack of competitive playing field with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland means that farmers are increasingly faced with the prospect of closure or moving operations to the south.

“We hope that the MAC [Migration Advisory Committee], and UK Government, will see the devastating impact which the lack of access to a labour market is having on our industry, and ensure the inclusion of mushroom pickers on the SOL.”