How labour shortages are affecting the horticulture sector

Martin Emmett

Martin Emmett

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair

A picture of overseas workers picking sprouts on a British farm

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board Chair Martin Emmett writes of the urgency around the supply of seasonal workers and pressing need for government commitment to the sector. 

Amid a plethora of issues facing the industry at this moment in time, one with the most immediate concern is the supply of seasonal workers. My own businesses have been severely impacted, and I know I’m not alone in saying it.

At the beginning of the year, we had the breakthrough of a seasonal worker permit scheme which is in place for three years with an initial cohort of 30,000 visas and a possible further 10,000 to be released subject to demand.

Eventually it emerged that the minimum pay rate would have to be set at £10.10 per hour, a factor contributing to extreme the cost price inflation that we are now facing.

Delays and permits

Now in mid-June we are experiencing a war in Europe and the NFU is urging the government to take every measure possible to mitigate against its consequences.

In the context of labour, we need to avoid unnecessary delays in visa processing, and we need all the extra 10,000 permits to be allocated now.

As I write we are meeting arming minister Victoria Prentis to press home this urgency. 

Pressing need for government support

Underlying all this is data from the ONS showing that the number of vacancies outnumbers the number of unemployed.

The concept of the ‘high skill- high wages’ economy does not seem to address the need for a threshold level of labour supply – but we now need more government support in addressing this challenge.

Government commitment

These same problems, along with supply chain issues, are being faced worldwide. There is no quick fix, and there is no guarantee that international supplies of food that are here today will be there tomorrow.

There has never been a more important time for the UK Government to show its commitment to its national horticulture and potato industries.

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