Scottish farmers have reported problems harvesting due to a shortage of seasonal workers, a survey has found.

The National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFU Scotland) surveyed farmers growing soft fruit, potatoes and vegetables and 48% said they had difficulty harvesting in 2017 due to labour shortages.

All of the 54 producers responding to the survey, which was carried out between January 19 and February 5, said they were either “concerned” or “very concerned” about the future impact a shortage of workers would have their businesses.

A total of 65% of respondents reported recruiting non-UK workers was more challenging in 2017 than in 2016 and 74% expect this to increase in 2018.

Questioned on what action they will take if sufficient seasonal workers cannot be recruited, 58% of respondents are “likely” or “very likely” to downsize, while 42% said they would cease current activity.

Most (61%) said they would increase wages to attract staff, 55% they would increase internal skills and development and 52% said they would automate production.

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “With the 2018 season almost upon us, it is vital a solution is found to attract non-UK workers to Scotland to undertake agricultural seasonal work for up to ten months, which has in-built flexibility to allow workers to move from farm-to-farm as harvests complete.

“This is an immediate issue, but what is also becoming of increasing concern is how Scotland’s agricultural and food processing sectors will continue to employ and retain non-UK workers for permanent positions up and down the supply chain after Brexit.”

SNP MEP Alyn Smith said the intervention strengthens the case for retaining freedom of movement.

He said: “NFU is an impartial, credible membership organisation with no axe to grind over Brexit one way or another.

“Farmers want to grow the food we eat, and of course run profitable businesses, and their warning today is stark.

“Aside from the obscenity of crops rotting in Scottish fields at a time when so many people are food poor, the economic impact on farming businesses and our wider economy are genuinely frightening.”