NFU response to Defra’s Independent Review into Labour Shortages

30 June 2023

Workers in a field picking cauliflower

Responding to Defra’s publication of the independent review into labour shortages in the food supply chain, NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “We are pleased to see the independent panel recognises that action is needed to improve British farmers’ access to a skilled and motivated workforce.

“Ensuring we have enough workers, both permanent and seasonal, is essential to maintaining domestic food security and providing British consumers with high quality, nutritious, climate-friendly food. Our own recent survey looking at worker shortages across the agriculture industry shows that 41%1 of respondents reduced the amount of food they produced due to being unable to recruit the essential workforce needed.

“The horticulture and poultry sectors have been severely impacted by worker shortages in recent years, and we welcome the panel’s recommendation to secure the Seasonal Workers Scheme beyond 2024. We have been calling for a long-term 5-year rolling scheme to guarantee businesses have the certainty they need to continue producing food.

“Our survey results also show that over 77% of respondents said difficulty in recruiting workers was down to a lack of applicants, so the panel’s focus on the need to boost recruitment, training and upskilling of domestic staff is positive to see and TIAH (The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture) has a key role to play.

“We must now work together to solve the labour challenges impacting the industry, which is a brilliant one to work in and has many opportunities across all levels. I look forward to hearing the government’s response to the panel’s review and recommendations, which are essential in giving businesses the confidence to invest in our food security.”

More information

  1. An NFU survey was carried out between April and May 2023 to gather data on roles in shortage in farming and horticulture over eight different roles. These roles were:
    1. General farm worker
    2. Machine operator – field/harvest operative
    3. Machine operator – pack house
    4. Dairy technician
    5. Horticulture supervisor with language skills
    6. Poultry shed cleaner
    7. Hatchery operative
    8. Egg grader
  • There were 506 responses to the NFU survey, and these included:
    1. 70% of respondents saying they had difficulty retaining workers in the past two years.
    2. In the poultry sector, 75% of respondents said they found it very difficult to recruit poultry shed cleaners and 60% said they found it very difficult to recruit hatchery operatives.
    3. In the horticulture sector, 56% of respondents said they found it very difficult to recruit supervisors with language skills.
  • The Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the food supply chain was published by Defra on Friday 30th
  • The NFU provided oral and written evidence to the panel detailing the workforce challenges in the agriculture industry.