The NFU has submitted 8 occupations to be considered for the Shortage Occupation List:
- Machine Operator (field)/Harvest Operator
- Dairy Technician
- Horticulture/Potato Supervisor with Language Skills
- Egg Grader
- Poultry Shed Cleaner
- General Farm Worker
- Hatchery Operative/Catcher
- Machine Operator (Packhouse)
The roles we have identified in this submission are in shortage and are vital to the maintenance of production in the UK and growth opportunities for the wider agricultural and horticultural sectors.
Without an immigration solution, labour will continue to be a driving factor in the reduction of UK food, and a rise in imports from countries that often have lower worker welfare and environmental standards.
To support the NFU’s response, the NFU carried out a member survey between 28 April and 9 May 2023 to gather data on roles in shortage in farming and horticulture, which continue to be challenging to fill and for which immigration is a suitable response. The survey was open for nine days and gathered 506 responses from members employing workers.
The survey found that many businesses are holding vacancies and anticipate that these vacancy numbers will increase over time. As of May 2023, 56% of respondents (employers) had open vacancies on farm and 78% expect to have vacancies open over the next 12 months.
In an attempt to retain workers:
- 90% of respondents have increased wages
- 53% have increased flexibility on working patterns
- 43% have offered accommodation
According to the survey results, employers within agriculture have seen wages increase by an average of 9%.
We spoke to a selection of farming businesses as part of our research:
A grower from the South West said: "The cost of employing people has gone through the roof. Since Brexit, the cost of the visa process and schemes has added huge costs to our business and it is challenging to pass them through the supply chain; we just have to learn to live with it."
Just under a quarter of respondents said that they were increasing automation on farm to minimise the impact of labour shortages on their business, but automation still has a long way to go before it can replace labour completely.
A berry grower in the Midlands told us: "I've looked at robotics for picking the strawberries, but a robot would only replace one worker. You would also still have to have a supervisor to look after it who would ultimately need paid more."
Another horticulture grower said: "If the ground is wet, then we definitely cannot use machinery as the ground cannot cope with the weight of the machines. Current automation is not as good as the human eye. A robot cannot see what is good produce and what is not whereas the human eye can.
"Automation does not fix the problem of labour shortages. Over the next five years we need people in the field without a shadow of a doubt."
The NFU expects to see an updated shortage occupation list in the New Year.
The Migration Advisory Committee has announced its intention to review the Seasonal Worker visa route during 2023.
NFU members can read our response in full at: NFU response – Call for Evidence on the Shortage Occupation List