The government is to allow farmers to bring in 30,000 seasonal workers from overseas in 2021 – three times more than this year – to help pick and pack fruit and vegetables.
The extension of the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme, which will apply to EU and non-EU workers after the end of freedom of movement from Europe in January, comes after a difficult harvest in 2020 during which farmers feared fruit and vegetables would rot in the fields as they struggled to attract enough workers.
A Pick for Britain campaign attracted about 8,000 local people this summer. That was about 11% of the total workforce according to the National Farmers’ Union, a massive increase from the 1% of pickers and packers who were British citizens in 2019.
Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the NFU, said it had been a “very difficult season” with higher recruitment costs and higher turnover of staff.
The government plans to actively promote the recruitment and retention of domestic seasonal workers in 2021.
However, it has also extended the immigration scheme, which allows people from overseas to work on farms for up to six months, after the Association of Labour Providers trade body found that 70% of food growers and manufacturers expected to struggle to recruit lower skilled workers in 2021.
David Camp, the chief executive of the ALP, said the industry had “made a strong case that, where the evidence demonstrates, there should be limited immigration of key workers into essential sectors.”
Bradshaw said: “This is welcome and positive news, not just for Britain’s growers but also for shoppers who want to enjoy homegrown fresh produce.
“By expanding the seasonal workers’ pilot, the government is sending a clear message that it is important for Britain to be able to produce its own fruit and veg, which has huge potential for growth. This scheme will allow growers to employ seasonal workers at key times to pick a wide variety of fresh produce on British farms.”