The supply of agricultural workers for the next two growing seasons on UK farms is now “in jeopardy”, the NFU has warned.
The number of migrant workers coming to the UK to work on farms has already fallen by 17% this year, the union has estimated.
But unless the UK government establishes a system of seasonal recruitment “as a matter of urgency”, the industry will face a shortfall in 2018 and 2019.
“It is crucial the government addresses these concerns immediately to ensure that farming has access to a competent and reliable workforce, both now and after Brexit,” said NFU president Meurig Raymond.
The NFU’s report, Access to a Competent and Flexible Workforce, asked the government to set out its preferred approach to a new immigration system now, which caters for permanent and seasonal agricultural workers.
The Home Office must ensure the Migration Advisory Committee undertakes a full assessment of new immigration system options and their suitability for agriculture and horticulture, said the report.
This must include a “clear and accurate picture” of labour force statistics in the sectors.
And the upcoming Immigration Bill must recognise the importance of EU migrant workers to the industry, with a “realistic expectation of the ability and availability of UK workers to fill the jobs”.
The report included potential options for schemes the government could adopt to provide solutions. These include:
- Re-introduction of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme
- An Australian-style points-based immigration system
- A UK-style points system to attract non-EU nationals
- Retaining an element of free movement
Each year, up to 80,000 workers, most from the EU, especially Romania and Bulgaria, come to the UK to work on farms.
However, the devaluation of sterling, improved living standards in eastern Europe and concerns over Brexit means fewer migrant workers are travelling to the UK to work in agriculture.