SCOTTISH soft fruit is being left to rot on bushes and growers are being forced by supermarkets to absorb Brexit-related costs – which may force some of them to the wall, producers say.

Fruit pickers’ wages are up 15% and visas for EU workers cost £300 a head – up from £50 before Brexit.

Transport, fuel and electricity costs have all risen, but supermarkets are refusing to pay more for Scottish raspberries and strawberries.

MSP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire Jim Fairlie (below) said: “The UK Government was unforgivably reckless in pushing through a hard Brexit in the midst of the pandemic. That will translate into an even more broken food supply.”

Scottish soft fruit left to rot on bushes amid Brexit cost crisis

He urged people who could afford the difference to buy fresh produce from independent shops, adding: “The supermarkets put up photos of farmers and slap Union Jacks on everything – but Scottish growers are not being treated fairly. If people don’t shop differently nothing will change.”

Fairlie pointed to a growing number of families facing food poverty.

He said: “There is huge pressure on food prices – when they start to rise that will hit the poorest in society hardest.

“And in the midst of this, the UK Government is going to remove the 20% uplift in universal credit – at the worst possible time.

“It is very difficult for food producers to get seasonal workers. The post-Brexit visa system is capped at 30,000 when the UK sector needs 90,000 seasonal workers.

“And European lorry drivers don’t want to come here after Brexit because of the hostile environment that has created.”

Iain Brown from Easter Grangemuir Farm, Pittenweem, also a spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, said: “Right now everyone is working flat-out trying to make the best of what we have and bring the harvest in – but there is a lot of concern.

“Growers operate on tight margins and, like any other business, we can’t trade while insolvent, so unless there is help from somewhere, some may have to close.

“In the longer term, if people want to have confidence that there will be a supply of Scottish soft fruit, then they will have to pay more for it.”

He explained: “We are not able to pick about 10% of our harvest. That is probably about average.

“The pickers that we have got are being offered overtime but we can only ask them to do so much. We have pickers from Ukraine, Belarus and Romania.

They have to pay about £250 for their visas.

“Costs for everything are soaring – the electricity we use for irrigation and cooling; transport, fertiliser; even the plastic trays we put the fruit in. We have no choice but to take the price the supermarkets set. There is nowhere else we can sell the volume of crop we get at this time of year – 90% of it is sold by the supermarkets.”

Angela Porches at Angus Soft Fruits said: “A lot of our members are concerned about the impact on their business. Their margins are getting squeezed but the price supermarkets pay was set last year. The price we agree with the supermarkets for next season will have to be higher.”

Scottish soft fruit left to rot on bushes amid Brexit cost crisis

James Welby, of independent greengrocers Tattieshaws on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk, said: “I give the farmers what they ask. Each punnet has gone up about 20p. The soft fruit I sell comes direct from local growers.

“You can get twice as much from the supermarket – but the growers are getting nothing for that. It will have come from further away and been sitting in cold storage for longer. ”

Welby said there are around 10 independent greengrocers left in Edinburgh, instead of 40 when he started.

He continued: “I hope this shop can survive Brexit. We stock eight to 10 varieties of locally grown Scottish potatoes, all the different types of apples. You can’t find that in a supermarket.

“But in the winter we will be very dependent on supplies from the EU and, thanks to Brexit, it is worse quality and more expensive.”

Shopper Nick Currie said he had noticed poor-quality produce on supermarket shelves recently as well as continuing gaps: “I bought a bag of carrots – the sell-by said they would be good for another week but when I opened the bag they were soft, and that happens quite a lot now.”

Dominic Duckett, social risk researcher at the James Hutton Institute, said: “Our work has identified some weakness in the food supply system.

“The main one is access to nutritional food for the poorest 20%. Disruption often leads to rising prices and they are already suffering from food insecurity and food poverty.

“Another is centralised food distribution. There is not a network of local abattoirs or fruit and veg markets. Aberdeen, for example, doesn’t have any independent greengrocers.”

Staff at ScotMid in Edinburgh said deliveries continue to be delayed and bring a smaller range of fruit and veg.

The FT reported yesterday that NFU VP Tom Bradshaw said one grower had to send £50,000 worth of soft fruit to landfill due to lack of transport.