Migrant workers pick vegetables in a field© Mint Images/REX/Shutterstock

The NFU is primed to tackle the major issue of reaching staffing targets by developing a 10-point plan on recruitment, skills and training.

At the NFU council meeting on Tuesday, 30 January, Ali Capper, horticulture and potatoes board chairman, announced plans to launch a 10-point plan to help members “get through the season”.

The cost of labour has increased by 10-12% year-on-year in a sector where margins are low, Ms Capper explained, exacerbated by a continued shortfall in staffing.

See also: Farming’s access to labour when UK leaves the EU

The total number of staff recruited last September was below the recruitment target by 29.3%, in comparison to a shortfall of 17% in September 2016.

Ms Capper said: “Access to workers is still a major issue for farmers. The NFU can act as a conduit for the industry and through the member network that we have we can absorb some really good examples of best practice.

“The 10-point plan will be about articulating this to members, from recruitment methods, accommodation standards, skills and training. It’s a whole raft of different areas that we are hoping to cover.

“Until the government commits to some sort of recruitment scheme, our members are going to need all the help they can get with staffing this season.”

Labour force ‘in jeopardy’

The NFU’s end of season labour survey will also be launched soon. The survey was established in 2013 following the abolition of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme (Saws) and keeps monthly tabs on the availability of seasonal workers and predicts any shortfalls.

Last year the union warned the supply of agricultural workers for the consecutive growing seasons was “in jeopardy” after their survey estimated the number of migrant workers coming to work on UK farms had fallen by 17%.

Ms Capper told members she believed the government can “sort this out for the 2018 season if they so choose” and she called for urgent clarification of where their funding will come from after Brexit.

Consistency has also been an issue when working with central government, with four immigration ministers coming and going since Ms Capper took on her role in 2016.

She has reached out to Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, who was appointed to the position on 8 January, for a meeting to discuss the sector’s woes.