NFU president Minette Batters said that it had been a “nightmare” trying to have constructive conversations with the Home Office to get them to understand the acute labour shortages affecting UK agriculture.
This year, the government expanded the SWS to allow 30,000 temporary migrants to come to the UK for up to six months, with a reserve of a further 10,000 visas if necessary.
But the NFU and others say this figure falls far short of the 70,000-plus temporary workers that are needed in the UK each year to pick and pack ornamental and food crops.
“I don’t want to hear that we can get British workers. We’ve been through all that,” said Wilkinson. “We need to be able to get migrant workers in our seasonal scheme and the scheme needs extending from six months to a minimum of nine months.”
Spencer responded that Defra was engaged in a conversation with the Home Office about farm labour, which was “a positive move, going forward”.
But he added: “That is not a promise to deliver those extra numbers, but it’s certainly a promise to try.
“We understand the challenge that you are facing. I certainly understand that challenge. I will do everything I can to convince the Home Office to give you that certainty.”