Seasonal workers – read our letter to the Immigration Minister

First published: 29 November 2022

 Farm workers harvest the Rhubarb at New Farm

The NFU, including 160 members, have written to Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick amid concerns over visas for seasonal workers in the future. 

The NFU letter, penned by NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw, has asked for urgent clarity on the number of visas amid concerns that current government commitments will fall short of what is needed by the British horticulture sector.

We explain that securing sufficient seasonal labour remains an acute challenge for the sector with NFU data showing that shortages peaked at 40% in the spring and have averaged 15% across the year to date.

The letter was sent 29 November 2022.

“However, we remain concerned that the number of visas available are not sufficient to prevent further crop losses and a continued fall in UK production."

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw

Dear Minister,

As growers from across the horticultural sector, may we offer you our congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Immigration.

As the MP of a proud rural constituency, you will already understand many of the challenges facing British food and farming and we appreciate the time you’ve taken to meet with farmers in the past, to listen to the concerns of those driving the agri-food sector.

While we recognise the many pressing challenges facing the country at present, we are writing to you as businesses from across the sector to ask for urgent clarity on the Seasonal Workers Scheme. We all welcomed the news last year that the Seasonal Workers Scheme is guaranteed to 2024. However, we remain concerned that the number of visas falls short of what is needed to prevent further crop losses and a continued fall in UK production.

Securing sufficient seasonal labour remains an acute challenge for the sector, and NFU data shows that shortages peaked at 40% in the spring and have averaged 15% across the year to date. In particular, the horticulture sector has been significantly impacted, with UK fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers going unpicked – leading to a significant financial loss for British producers and nutritious food being wasted. While the government's own food strategy includes an ambition for growth in horticulture, domestic production is currently falling at a worrying rate and is way below its potential.

In addition to further clarity, we are also urging a much more collaborative working relationship between your department and the sector. We want to engage with you to get the right solutions in place for horticultural businesses and the wider agricultural sector too.

We therefore hope that you will take up the NFU’s offer to host you on farm to observe the challenges first-hand and to meet with those in the business to understand how we can collaborate to ensure farming businesses have the people needed to pick, pack and process high quality, affordable and sustainable food for the nation. 

We look forward to working with you at this critical time for agriculture, to ensure British farmers and growers have access to the seasonal and permanent workforce needed to deliver high quality food for the country and expand our domestic production.

Once again, many congratulations. We look forward to working closely with you. 

Yours sincerely,

Tom Bradshaw
Deputy President

Co-signatories include:
Madestein UK Ltd
Barfoot Farms Limited
Varfell Farms Ltd
Strawson Ltd
Riviera Produce Ltd
G's Fresh

Threat to UK fruit and vegetable industry

Speaking about the letter, NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “Soaring energy costs combined with a continued lack of people to pick crops are posing a serious threat to the future of the UK’s fruit and vegetable industry.

“The news that the Seasonal Workers Scheme is guaranteed to 2024 was a welcome boost for growers last year. However, we remain concerned that the number of visas available are not sufficient to prevent further crop losses and a continued fall in UK production.

“We need urgent clarity on the scheme and a much more collaborative relationship between the Home Office and the NFU to find solutions.”

Financial losses

In particular, the horticulture sector has been significantly impacted, with UK fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers going unpicked – leading to a significant financial loss for British producers and nutritious food being wasted. While the government’s own food strategy includes an ambition for growth in horticulture, domestic production is currently falling at a worrying rate and is way below its potential.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick MP has also been offered the opportunity to visit a farm to see the challenges first-hand as growers seek to work with the government to find solutions.

Updates

We’ll be keeping members updated on the Seasonal Workers Scheme and will continue supporting members on this and other labour shortage challenges.


Read more on labour shortages:

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