• The government has recently announced that the number of workers allowed to travel to the UK to pick and package fruit and vegetables will be increased to support farmers in this year’s harvest.

    Context

    In the run up to Brexit, the agriculture sector has faced much uncertainty about the impact on their industry due to potential restrictions on seasonal workers. Farmers and growers rely heavily on seasonal migrant workers and recruiting enough domestic workers always brings challenges.

    Many of our clients in this sector have told us their concerns about whether they will be able to secure enough workers for this year’s harvest, as well as other key periods in the agricultural calendar moving forward.

    Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme extension

    In response to these concerns, the government has recently announced that it is extending and expanding its Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme. The key aim is to support farmers and growers to pick and pack fruit and vegetables for this year’s harvest.

    In the announcement on 22 December 2020, the government confirmed that the number of workers permitted to travel to the UK to pick and pack fruit and vegetables would be increased threefold this year,

    Up to 30,000 visas will be made available for migrant workers to allow them to work on UK farms for up to six months.

    This is welcome news for farmers and horticulturists who have been consulting with the government and calling for an extension to the Pilot Scheme to address access to migrant labour following the UK’s departure from the EU.

    Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We will always back our farmers and growers, who work hard all year round to provide us with a secure supply of fruit and vegetables.

    The measures announced today will provide vital labour, both domestic and from abroad, to our farmers and growers to help gather the 2021 harvest to feed the nation. Our review into automation will pave the way for a pioneering and efficient future for our fruit and vegetable growers.”

    Pick for Britain campaign

    The government has also announced that it plans to build on the Pick for Britain campaign, launched last year. They hope this will actively promote the recruitment and retention of domestic seasonal workers in 2021 and beyond.

    The Pick for Britain campaign encourages UK workers to take on seasonal jobs during the harvest months, to help keep the nation fed.

    The future of the agriculture sector

    In other welcome news, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced that it will lead a review into the automation of horticulture, due to begin early this year. The review will look at how to increase automation in the sector in the long term, with the aim of reducing the reliance upon migrant seasonal labour.

    Applications for the government’s Farming Investment Fund are also due to open this year. The Fund offers grants to farmers for equipment, technology and infrastructure to support innovation and productivity. The changes will be designed to ensure that by 2028, farmers in England can sustainably produce healthy food profitably without subsidy, whilst taking steps to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare and reduce carbon emissions.

    Further support

    If you require any further information on the issues covered in this article, or any general support, please get in touch with our Agriculture and Rural team today.

    Can we help?

    Take a look at our Agriculture and Rural page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

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