Government ‘accepts need’ for overseas farm workers

The government says it has accepted the need for farmers to continue employing seasonal agricultural workers from overseas after the UK leaves the European Union.

Home secretary Amber Rudd said her department was working on the best way to introduce a seasonal work permit scheme for overseas agricultural workers coming to the UK.

Ms Rudd said: “We are aware how necessary it will be to ensure that we have some sort of seasonal scheme in place, and we are looking carefully at it.”

See also: NFU warns of labour shortage on UK farms

It follows a meeting between NFU leaders and immigration minister Robert Goodwill.

Ms Rudd was responding to a parliamentary question from Edinburgh East MP Michelle Thomson on Monday (5 December).

Ms Thomson had asked whether the government would protect access for seasonal workers from the EU to safeguard the future of the UK’s agricultural sector?

The UK relied on more than 80,000 seasonal workers to pick its fruit and veg every year, she said.

Fall in numbers

The NFU had warned of an agricultural labour crisis because of a sharp fall in the number of seasonal workers coming to the UK after the EU referendum in June.

Almost half the companies providing agricultural labour were unable to fulfil demand for horticultural workers between July and September, according to an NFU survey.

This was 34% up on the second quarter of 2016 and a sharp drop from the beginning of the year when no labour provider reported problems finding overseas workers.

The NFU said the supply of workers to harvest late-season horticultural crops was only enough to meet 67% of the sector’s needs.