Pilot scheme brings 2,500 seasonal workers for UK farms
The government has announced a migrant worker scheme, enabling farmers to source labour from outside the EU for six months of the year.
A nationwide pilot scheme has been announced by the Home Secretary and Environment Secretary to bring 2,500 workers from outside the EU for up to six months.
This pilot means that fruit and vegetable farmers will now be able to employ migrant workers for seasonal work., alleviating labour shortages during peak production periods. Moreover, with 2,500 workers arriving from outside the EU, production of UK fruit should increase.
In the last 20 years, soft fruit production in the UK has grown dramatically, by approximately 130 per cent. To ensure that this growth continues and the UK is at the forefront of the next agriculture revolution, farmers must also look at ways that technology can reduce demands for labour. However, automated harvesting solutions are not universally available and so, in the short term, this pilot will support farmers during peak production periods. The pilot will also explore how to keep British horticulture competitive, as almost all other OECD countries source seasonal workers to pick fruit and vegetables.
The news has been welcomed by the National Farmers Union, with NFU President Minette Batters saying that the scheme was “…recognition from the government that British horticulture is a successful, thriving sector which faces some unique challenges but is capable of producing more great, healthy British fruit and vegetables”.
Other farmers’ associations also welcomed the move, but commented how, in capping the scheme at 2,500 workers, it fails to address the real need of farmers.
The Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “British farmers are vital to the UK’s economy – and the Government will look to support them in any way we can.
“This pilot will ensure farmers have access to the seasonal labour they need to remain productive and profitable during busy times of the year. I am committed to having an immigration system that reduces migration to sustainable levels, supports all industry and ensures we welcome those who benefit Britain.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “We have listened to the powerful arguments from farmers about the need for seasonal labour to keep the horticulture industry productive and profitable.
“From lettuce in East Anglia to strawberries in Scotland, we want to make sure that farmers can continue to grow, sell and export more great British food. This two-year pilot will ease the workforce pressures faced by farmers during busy times of the year. We will review the pilot’s results as we look at how best to support the longer-term needs of industry outside the EU.”
Other recent projects from the government have included the payment by results scheme.