British Berry Growers has given its reaction to Defra’s labour announcement

Nick Marston

Nick Marston

British Berry Growers has welcomed news of the government’s seasonal worker pledge, but stressed the need for a rolling scheme and nine-month visas.

This week Defra committed to 43,000 seasonal worker visas for horticulture up until 2029, an announcement which was warmly received across the industry.

Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to ensuring long-term labour certainty for food producers. British berry farmers are reliant on seasonal agriculture workers. The industry employs around 30,000 seasonal workers from abroad every year to pick and pack soft fruit, and without them the berry industry in the UK would simply collapse.

“Extending the seasonal worker visa scheme until 2029 provides much-needed stability for berry growers, allowing us to plan effectively. However, we urge the government to provide a rolling five-year commitment. This would avoid a return to the fraught uncertainty around labour which has threatened the sustainability of our industry.”

Marston said that while the government’s response to John Shropshire’s independent labour review is “undoubtedly a positive step”, it has not addressed the need to extend the seasonal agriculture workers scheme from six to nine months. This, he said, would enable workers to gain more experience, which would help farmers with picking productivity.

It would also enable workers to stay on farms for the whole of the UK season, meaning they could earn more money, and farms would benefit from lower recruitment costs, he added.

“In addition to a longer visa, we also want to trial direct recruitment by farms, rather than going through scheme operators,” Marston continued. ”This would lead to a shorter supply chain, a more cost-effective system for growers and workers alike, and stronger relationships between farms and skilled seasonal workers.

“This announcement is undoubtedly good news for growers and we hope it signals a better understanding from government that seasonal worker schemes are not an immigration issue – seasonal workers are on temporary visas and are vital to Britain’s food security and economic success.

“Investing in robotics is also a positive step mentioned in the government announcement and we’re excited to monitor progress. It is a complex sector, and we are currently far off robots replacing skilled pickers, so we need to ensure that we have access to the picking labour we need until that technology is working well.”