NFU appeals to government to expand seasonal worker scheme (SWS)

Current SWS falls short of the 70,000-plus seasonal workers needed in UK, says NFU

Current SWS falls short of the 70,000-plus seasonal workers needed in UK, says NFU

The NFU has urged ministers to act now and expand the seasonal worker scheme (SWS) for 2023 to offer stability to farm businesses hit by labour shortages and soaring energy costs, reports Farmers Weekly.

Speaking at an NFU fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Monday (3 October), NFU leaders appealed to Defra minister Mark Spencer and Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby Sir Robert Goodwill to persuade the government to allow more foreign workers to travel to the UK to harvest crops.

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board vice-chairman Derek Wilkinson said the labour shortage had cost the UK farming industry about £22m in wasted product this year, including £250,000 in his own salad and veg growing business.

He told the Defra minister that the government must provide details on its plans for seasonal farming labour in 2023 now – or the industry would be forced to contract.

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.”