Recruitment agencies are failing to find fruit and vegetable pickers to work on British farms, according to the Association of Labour Providers (ALP).

More than half of agencies have said they were unable to secure workers even in the ‘quiet’ first months of the year, resulting in unpicked fruit being left to rot in the fields.

Eastern Europeans make up 99% of seasonal workers on UK farms. Last year, 17% fewer people came to work in the UK, according to the National Farmers Union (NFU).

An NFU survey also found that last year there was a 12.5% shortfall of seasonal workers required to work on farms.

According to the Kent-based AG Recruitment, the number of Romanians willing to work in the UK has fallen sharply since the UK referendum.

AG Recruitment co-director Estera Amesz said: “We used to have queues outside our office in Bucharest.

“30 to 40 people would come a day. Now, on a good day, it is a handful. We used to take the crème de la crème. Now, we are scraping the barrel.”

As a result, the company now has to consider job applicants who ‘have two hands and two legs, and stand a 50% chance of making it’ in order to find the 4,000 people needed to pick fruits in the next few months.

AG Recruitment co-director Doug Amesz said: “We need an incentive. Previously we were looking for people with some English, now we find it difficult to recruit anyone with English.”

According to an ALP report, farmers were warned last year of recruitment difficulties. Three-quarters of agriculture and horticulture businesses predicted shortages in low and unskilled roles this year.

In order to try to attract more foreign workers, some farmers have increased wages and bonuses, and improved accommodation conditions.

The government has promised to address this issue and consider introducing a scheme to give seasonal workers special permits to work in the UK.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Defra and the Home Office are working closely to ensure the labour needs of the agriculture sector are met once we leave the EU.

“We have been clear that up until December 2020, employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors will be free to recruit EU citizens to fill vacancies and those arriving to work will be able to stay in the UK afterwards.”