The NFU has called for the government to change its policy of ending the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) in 2010 after its 2008 seasonal labour survey revealed growers had lost an average of £140,000 due to a shortage of seasonal workers.

Two-thirds of the 150 growers – using 25,000 workers – who took part in the survey said they had lost money as a direct result of labour shortages and many had incurred additional costs when dealing with labour problems.

The average loss was £30,000 more than last year and NFU horticulture board chairman, Richard Hirst, said business confidence had been affected.

“These results back up what we have been saying all year – that there is insufficient seasonal labour for horticulture. The Home Office must now listen and, in the short-term, expand the number of SAWS permits and change its policy on the ending of the SAWS in 2010.”

Failure to act could “irrevocably damage” the industry and lead to an increase in imports, he warned.

The NFU survey followed last week’s publication of a paper by Liverpool University for the government’s Migration Advisory Committee which recommended a renewed SAWS scheme to cope with the needs of the horticultural industry.