Douglas Ross has warned that there is a “real risk of soft fruit going to waste in Scotland” unless the Home Office urgently rethinks its post-Brexit immigration rules.
Farms north of the border employ tens of thousands of non-UK nationals in seasonal positions in the soft fruit and vegetable sectors each year.
Under the current post-Brexit rules, up to 10,000 seasonal workers are to be granted permission to come into the UK but the National Union of Farmers Scotland (NUFS) has said 70,000 workers will be needed next summer.
Ministers have argued British workers can fill the roles, but the NFU said efforts to recruit UK workers when lockdown restrictions ruled out foreign workers were “not as successful as hoped”.
Mr Ross, speaking on the opening day of the Scottish Tory conference, said he had made “a very strong case” to the prime minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel to revise the rules.
The Scottish Tory leader said: “The produce across many parts of Scotland is outstanding and we want to ensure that excellent produce gets out of the polytunnels and into the supermarkets so people can continue to enjoy it.
“I’ve made a very strong case to the prime minister, to the Home Secretary and it was a key issue that I raised when I attended a recent Cabinet meeting.”
He added: “I think we have to go back, we have to listen to NFUS and we have to listen to soft fruit growers across Scotland.
Mr Ross warned if the message was not heard “there is a real and clear risk of soft fruit going to waste in Scotland”.
The Moray MP was more upbeat about the opportunities for the fishing industry post-Brexit, however.
“Fisheries is an area where people can be very optimistic about our future”, he said.
“What I think we can do as we bring back control of our waters to the United Kingdom is shape our policies to support the rejuvenation of the industry, to get more young people to want to go to sea, to get more young people to be involved and to revitalise some of these fishing communities right across Scotland.”
Responding to concerns over seasonal workers, a UK Government spokesman said: “Now the UK has left the EU, Defra is working closely with the Home Office and other government departments to ensure that there is a long-term strategy for the food and farming workforce.”