A former cabinet minister has appeared to suggest Romanian and Bulgarian fruit pickers do not know how to use mobile phones.
Owen Paterson said those who are able to pick strawberries without squashing them are carrying out skilled work, adding it is work British citizens will not do.
He then referenced mobile phone use as he praised the migrants allowed to work on British farms for a certain period of time each year under a scheme closed by Theresa May.
Paterson, who was environment secretary for almost two years, told a Conservative Party conference fringe event: "The most angry people I met in my time at Defra, by far, were the fruit and vegetable growers who were being deprived of a scheme called the (seasonal) agricultural workers scheme by actually the existing Prime Minister when she was home secretary."
He said the scheme also allowed up to 21,250 Romanians and Bulgarians to receive accommodation, catering and medical facilities during the growing season before they returned home.
Paterson added: "And this is a skilled job, you know, you've got to get up early in the morning and pick strawberries for Tiptree.
"You can't squash them, I'm not joking, it's a skilled job - they may not... know how to use a mobile phone but picking strawberries very early in the morning is a skilled job, and brutally, our locals won't do it.
"I had exactly the same stories from apple growers in Hereford, places like that, and in my own patch - my own constituency, I've got a big abattoir (where) at least 60% of the people there are actually mainly from eastern Europe, quite often Portugal.
"So the horticultural, food-processing industries badly need a supply of labour."
The North Shropshire MP later said he wants an immigration system that allows skilled people to work in the UK in jobs and industries where there are not sufficient numbers.