Farmers have accused the government of failing to listen to their warnings over the future of domestic food production after concerns ministers would not increase the number of seasonal worker visas next year.

 The criticism came at a summit convened by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and attended by the environment minister, George Eustice, where food producers, processors, and retailers urged the government to fix supply chains to ensure food security.

Farmers have faced a string of labor shortage challenges over the last year, resulting in a mass slaughter of healthy pigs on farms because of staffing shortages at abattoirs, the destruction of fruit and vegetables which could not be picked on time, and disruption caused by lorry driver shortages.

Some growers expressed concern that changes to the programme would see more farmers competing for a limited pool of labour. Whereas the programme was reserved for fruit and vegetable pickers this year, it will be extended to cover ornamental crops such as daffodils next year, without an increase in the overall number of permits issued.

“The seasonal worker scheme at 30,000 really isn’t adequate,” said Julian Marks, managing director of West Sussex-based grower Barfoots. “Soft fruit alone takes 30,000, and an idea that you can then spread that 30,000 over the ornamental industry as well as the edible industry is crazy, and is going to create some real tensions next year.”

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Comment by HTA
Commenting on the House of Commons EFRA select committee appearance by Immigration Minister Kevin Foster MP on December 14th, James Clark, Director of Policy & Communications at the Horticultural Trades Association, said:

“Kevin Foster, the Immigration Minister, confirming that ornamental growers will be included in the seasonal workers scheme is very welcome news. The length of the period being offered provides certainty. The HTA has been campaigning for this change, so I’m delighted that our engagement with the government has paid off.

"We need to see the full published details though, as it seemingly doesn’t include an extension in numbers or the visa scheme – we were calling for a modest 10% increase in the current scheme numbers - nor visas being expanded to include the full ornamental season. Without this, it means that ornamental growers will be competing with edible growers for this much-needed labor. We will be working with our members to assess how their labor needs are being met on the ground in 2022 and will make their case to the government for further appropriate change as necessary.”

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Horticultural Trades Association