FRUIT growers in Herefordshire say they need more help dealing with a shortfall in staff.

With Britain's departure from the EU, the number of seasonal labourers coming to Britain to work has declined significantly, with industry leaders having to use alternative means to find staff.

Currently, there are an estimated 500,000 job vacancies across the food and drink sector nationwide.

Will Kirby, from Brook House Hops, which has sites in Bromyard and Tenbury, said though Brexit had affected the jobs market, the company had found ways to deal with the issues.

He said: "Right now we have a week left of picking and we are coping alright.

"We have seven or eight permanent staff and we supplement them with around 25 seasonal labourers.

"It has become a bit harder, so we have had to be creative about how we recruit.

"We needed more staff at our Tenbury site because of some difficulties with paperwork, so we put ads out locally and had 450 applications from locals.

"The rule at the moment is you can employ anyone who has previously worked for you, so we usually have a lot of returners."

The National Farmers' Union has called for a 'recovery visa' to help attract seasonal labourers from abroad.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: "For the past 18 months, food and farming businesses have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full of nutritious and affordable food.

"But as this report demonstrates, businesses throughout the supply chain in a wide variety of roles are really feeling the impacts of the workforce shortages.

"At the very start of the supply chain, farm businesses are feeling the pressure.

"For example, horticulture farms are struggling to find the workforce to pick and pack the nation’s fruit and veg, with some labour providers seeing a 34 per cent shortfall in recruitment.

"Farm businesses have done all they can to recruit staff domestically, but even increasingly competitive wages have had little impact because the labour pool is so limited – instead only adding to growing production costs.

"It is simplistic to argue that the end of furlough will see many more people meeting this shortfall.

"Furloughed workers are concentrated in urban areas and not where many agri-food roles are located.

"A solution to this crisis will need the right people with the right skills and training available in rural areas where many roles are based.

"A short term Covid-19 Recovery Visa, alongside a permanent Seasonal Workers Scheme, would be an effective and, frankly, vital route to help the pressing needs of the industry today.

"It would also give us time to invest in the skills and recruitment of our domestic workforce, helping to provide long-term stability so we can recruit the people we need to continue to deliver quality, nutritious and affordable food for the nation."