According to the Northern Ireland Mushroom Growers Association (NIMGA), the mushroom sector in Northern Ireland will “disappear” in the coming years if the British government remains inactive.
The NIMGA warns that without the inclusion of the mushroom picker role in the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), the sector will face significant challenges. The SOL is a compilation of professions experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in the United Kingdom, and it is deemed beneficial to fill these gaps with labor migrants through skilled worker visas. Occupations on this list receive certain exemptions within the immigration rules, intended to facilitate employers’ access to migrant workers to fill job vacancies in areas where shortages have been identified.
The number of mushroom farms in Northern Ireland has declined from 296 in 1991 to just 10 in 2023, with further closures imminent and other businesses considering relocation.
If the British government does not take action to address this issue, the mushroom sector in Northern Ireland is at risk of complete extinction, according to the NIMGA. The decline in the number of farms is alarming, and the absence of the mushroom picker role on the SOL exacerbates the situation. It is crucial for the government to recognize the importance of including this occupation on the list to enable the recruitment of skilled labour from abroad.
Without skilled workers to carry out the necessary tasks involved in mushroom cultivation, farms will struggle to meet demand, leading to potential closures and a loss of livelihoods for those involved in the industry. Moreover, the economic impact of the sector’s disappearance would be significant, affecting not only mushroom growers but also suppliers, distributors, and related businesses.
It is essential for the British government to consider the long-term viability of the mushroom sector in Northern Ireland and take proactive measures to support its survival. This includes recognizing the critical role of the mushroom picker and providing avenues for skilled labour migration within the SOL framework.
By addressing the labor shortage in the mushroom sector, the government can help preserve jobs, sustain local businesses, and contribute to the overall economic stability of Northern Ireland. Failure to act risks the irreversible decline of a once-thriving industry and the loss of an important agricultural sector in the region.