UK fruit farmers feel the squeeze as Brexit looms
Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT) September 21, 2018
Coxheath, England (CNN)The workers traveled purposefully down the polytunnels, hands moving swiftly as they plucked plump raspberries and blackberries from the canes. Any delay means less pay.
It's hard work. But the picking teams at Clock House Farm, in southeast England, have traveled more than 1,000 miles to be there, leaving family and friends behind.
Why do they come? "For money," said Romanian picker Alin Florea succinctly. "It's double or more what I would get at home."
He's worked at Clock House Farm for the past eight summers. But, the 29-year-old said, it's not easy saying goodbye to his family, including a 2-year-old daughter, for four months at a time and this year could be his last. Back home, he works as a driver or window fitter.
Farm owner Robert Pascall said he's managed to get enough pickers this year, with 550 signed up, most of them Romanian. "It's been a bit touch and go and quite expensive recruitment -- and obviously we've seen quite significant wage inflation because it just has been difficult to get people," he said.
Over 30 years Pascall has seen his business, located an hour southeast of London, expand from 200 to 1,000 acres as he's taken over struggling farms nearby.
With the advantage of scale, he can compete. But a tiny operating profit margin leaves his business vulnerable to increasing labor costs.
Feeling the squeeze
Across the European Union, seasonal agricultural workers are at a premium. Most come from the eastern European nations that have most recently entered the bloc -- particularly Romania and Bulgaria -- but as economic conditions in their home countries improve, the number willing to travel elsewhere in Europe for short-term manual work is dwindling.
Germany's agricultural sector relies heavily on seasonal workers, with 180,000 Romanians and 100,000 Poles employed in 2016. In the face of falling numbers, some farmers and politicians called in German media reports this year for Ukrainians also to be allowed in.
Spain already employs thousands of seasonal workers from Morocco to harvest its crops, particularly strawberries. A spokesman for Spain's employment ministry confirmed that married women with children ar