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Seasonal Workers in Scottish Agriculture

19 March 2019

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In summer 2017, SRUC was commissioned by the Scottish Government to undertake research to improve our understanding of the labour market in Scottish agriculture. The final report from the project, which was published in March 2018, is available to download here.

Scotland’s agricultural sector relies heavily on seasonal non-UK workers, particularly from central and eastern Europe, to meet its labour demand. However, there was a lack of detailed information about the actual numbers of migrant workers working in Scotland and their living and working conditions – information gaps that this project aimed to address. The project had a number of different, but connected phases, including several surveys of farm businesses, labour providers and workers themselves.

Evidence collected in the study demonstrates the importance of seasonal workers from overseas to Scottish agriculture, with two-thirds of farm businesses stating that they were likely to switch to other agricultural activities without access to their migrant workforce, with over half saying they would likely diversify their business into non-agricultural activities.

The study (conservatively) estimates that there were 9,255 seasonal migrant workers engaged in Scottish agriculture during 2017 (including 900 employed directly by labour providers). About 25% work on more than one farm in the UK and there is also transition to other sectors of work, in particular, food processing and hospitality. On average, seasonal migrant workers were employed for just over four months per year, corresponding to the key soft fruit harvest period, but the seasonal pattern of crops in Scotland provided an opportunity for workers to work for extended periods.

For non-UK seasonal workers, the key motivations for working on Scottish farms were earnings potential linked to enhanced quality of life and goals, conditions of work relative to home countries and familiarity, recommendations and farm reputations.

Brexit has undoubtedly affected the confidence of a proportion of workers and therefore their expectations about returning to Scotland in 2018. Approximately 40% of the surveyed workers were certain they would be returning to Scotland in 2018, with 12% unlikely to return due to having permanent jobs to go to in their home countries, or returning to studies, etc. 46% were uncertain about whether they would return in 2018.

More information about the project can be obtained from Steven Thomson ( or Rob Mc Morran (

You can also find updates on this project via:

@RuralPolicySRUC on Twitter

Seasonal Workers