Fruit industry figures expressed their worries on the likely consequences of the loss of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) next year at the meeting of the Associate Parliamentary British Fruit Industry Group on 3 December.
English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow said: "It is essential for English horticulture that we have a new scheme to provide labour for harvesting. SAWS has not been a channel for illegal immigration, nor does it displace local labour."
As the economies of the most recently joined EU states improve, he added: "We need access to workers from outside Europe."
AC Goatham senior partner Clive Goatham said: "We regularly advertise for positions locally, including in areas of high unemployment, but whether it's picking, packhouse work or transport, across the spectrum English people don't want to be involved. We have an expanding industry and it would be tragic if we cannot take that opportunity because we cannot harvest."
The group's chairman Lord Selbourne, who is also chairman of the fruit-growing Blackmoor Estate, added: "We need to make sure that Parliament understands the full implications of losing the scheme. Our businesses simply cannot exist without seasonal labour."
Apples and pears Shortages forecast
English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow explained to the group: "There will be quite significant shortages of apples and pears until we come to next year's crop," due to a lack of surplus production elsewhere. "Bramley's stocks are likely to be exhausted by mid-June."
On assurance schemes, he said: "There are a vast number of schemes that growers have to belong to, with a large amount of duplication and so additional costs. We would be keen to see standardisation so one scheme applies to all growers."