FARMERS in Oxfordshire have revealed they are struggling to cope with a Brexodus of migrant workers.

One farm manager said she has seen a 20 per cent drop in applications from EU nationals, and a fruit and veg wholesaler has warned Oxford Mail readers to 'eat all the strawberries they can this year, because next year English ones will be a rarity'.

Producers have now called on the Government to make a decision on future relations with the EU.

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Imogen Stanley, who manages Rectory Farm in Stanton St John, near Oxford, said that between 60 and 85 per cent her employees are EU nationals.

Since the Brexit referendum, she has grown more and more concerned about the future of her business.

She said: "What I need is a decision about the future of our relations with the EU.

The Oxford Times:

File photo of a farm fruit picker.

"Once the Government makes a decision I can go along with it, but without it I’m unable to plan anything."

Miss Stanley, who runs the farm with her parents Richard and Carla, said a lack of labourers was a real and significant threat to the future of her business.

She said: "Before the referendum we were turning people away: in 2017 there was a 10 per cent drop in number of applications, followed by 20 per cent down in 2018. This year we’ve really struggled.”

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She said a large number of Rectory Farm’s workers had already decided to leave the UK.

"Most of them were with us for years, and after the referendum they were shocked, even upset.

"They felt like they were not wanted here, they didn’t know what they did wrong."

Miss Stanley also said she strongly disagreed with some predictions that Brexit could help boost British agriculture.

The Oxford Times:

She explained: "I don’t see it this way – quite the opposite: maybe in ten years robots will be picking strawberries up, but we don’t have ten years here.

"Last year, when the heat wave hit the UK, fruit were rotting in the field, because we didn’t have enough workers to pick them all."

Miss Stanley’s solution has been to build strong, lasting relationships with employees from the EU – and so far it has paid off: those working at the farm in previous years have encouraged friends and relatives to come to the UK to work there.

Now she is actively helping her employees fill out the paperwork and apply for settled status or citizenship.

Read also: Lord Mayor of Oxford tells EU nationals 'Brexit is a disaster'

But what can work on a small farm is not a nationwide solution: according to Miss Stanley, large farms in the UK need as many as 600 employees every year, so she ‘can only imagine how hard it is to find so many people’ in a period when she had trouble recruiting a dozen labourers.

One wholesaler who buys fruit and vegetables from farms across Oxfordshire warned that Britain's exit from the EU could 'destroy' British agriculture.

The businessman, based in Northamptonshire, said he wanted to remain anonymous due to a 'large and loud' group of Brexiteers in his community.

He said: “Brexit will demolish British agriculture, destroy it altogether.

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"Except maybe for the smallest farms, which do not employ any workers, farms will struggle and fall, one after the other."

The wholesaler went on: “Without Romanians, Bulgarians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans we’re set for extinction.

"If the Brexit is really going to happen in October, especially a no-deal scenario, advise your readers on the front page to eat all the strawberries they can, because next year English strawberries will be a rarity."

This opinion is supported by farmers.

Mark Stay, a farmer from North Aston, near Banbury, said that in his opinion it was the small area of his organic farm that made it unaffected by Brexit, but he said he had heard a lot about farmers struggling to find workforce and even talk of a fruit farm which was forced to close due to lack of employees.

The Oxford Times:

Mark Stay of North Aston Organics.

Slovakian Gabriel David, who manages the shop at Rectory Farm, said that Brexit was only one side of the coin.

He said that the other reason fewer EU migrant workers were coming over to the UK was simply because Eastern European countries become significantly more attractive places to live in past ten years.

He explained: "The difference in the standards of living is smaller and smaller.

"Here you might be earning more, that’s true, but costs of living are far greater. In Slovakia you might be earning only 1,000 Euros, but for €150 you can rent a three-bedroom house.

The Oxford Times:

Rectory Farm shop manager Gabriel David.

"Here you wouldn’t rent a room for it, and back home you don’t have to be far from your friends and family.

“But those of my friends who have moved to Germany or Austria are not moving back to Slovakia: they settled, found their place, so Brexit is a large part of it."

Asked what he would do if and when the referendum result was implemented he said: "If there is Brexit, I will move home."