Urgent scheme needed for non-EU farm workers

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has urged the Home Office to deliver a substantial trial of a Seasonal Agricultural Permit Scheme for non-EU workers in the 2017 season. 

In a meeting on Tuesday, 1 November 2016, the NFU horticulture board chairman Ali Capper told Robert Goodwill, Minister of State for Immigration, that a trial scheme was essential in mitigating the lack of EU workers available to work on British farms.

“The industry has very specific needs for labour in agriculture and horticulture and the NFU is already in discussions with government on this,” said Capper, following on from the meeting.

“Horticulture alone needs around 80,000 seasonal workers to pick and pack fruit, vegetables and plant crops across the country. This is expected to rise to 95,000 by 2021 based on today’s growth projections.”

She said that without workers to produce “iconic” British crops, the industry would contract and rely more heavily on imports. “This goes against everything the public tells us about wanting to support British farmers and wanting to see more British food on supermarket shelves,” explained Capper.

“We’re already experiencing a shortfall in EU workers resulting from long-term declines and exacerbated by the referendum outcome. We urgently need a substantial trial of a Seasonal Agricultural Permit Scheme for non-EU workers in 2017.

“We are satisfied that the Home Office has a full understanding of how important access to a competent, flexible and reliable workforce is for food production. However, without basic assurances from government that this labour will be accessible in future, grower businesses face huge uncertainty and are delaying investment in British production.”

NFU deputy president Minette Batters was also in attendance. She said that sourcing labour wasn’t a problem exclusive to the fruit and vegetable sector. “There is a need for a flexible workforce across food and farming – an industry that is worth £108 billion to the nation’s economy. Workers from across the skill spectrum are needed throughout the sector; in livestock and poultry businesses to process and pack meat, cereal farmers need workers to rogue crops and to drive complex machinery, dairy farmers need farm workers who have high levels of animal husbandry.”

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