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Increasing the number of seasonal workers is a “huge relief” for the horticultural and poultry sectors

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said the extension of the seasonal workers scheme would be a “huge relief” for the horticulture and poultry sectors which “rely on seasonal workers”.

In response to John Shropshire’s independent review of labor shortages in the food supply chain, the government has announced that it is extending the visa procedure for seasonal workers by five years, until 2029.

In 2025, 43,000 visas will be available for the horticultural sector and a further 2,000 for the poultry sector. Further details on the number of visas available for 2026-2029 will be determined later this year.

NFU chief executive Tom Bradshaw said: “We have seen in the past how damaging worker shortages are, with around £60m of crop losses expected in 2022 due to worker shortages.

“We know that with the right trading conditions there is significant growth opportunity and the commitment to the five-year program is very positive.

“Going forward, it is important to ensure that the number of visas and the costs associated with accessing them continue to meet the needs of our food producers.”

Chair of the NFU Scotland’s Horticulture Working Group, Iain Brown, said securing the UK Government’s commitment to extending the seasonal workers scheme for five years was a “difficult victory”.

“In the face of labor shortages, the introduction of a minimum five-year program for seasonal workers with an appropriate length of visa and no headcount cap was a key question in NFU Scotland’s election manifesto launched last month,” he said.

“We understand that there will be 43,000 visas available in the UK horticultural sector in 2025, with further details on the number of visas available from 2026 to 2029 to be provided later this year.

“The extension is a positive development and will provide relief to many soft fruit and vegetable producers in Scotland who rely heavily on migrant seasonal workers to ensure our crops are harvested each year.

“The five-year extension provides a significant degree of certainty and allows these companies to plan ahead.”

Automated packing rooms

The government also announced further funding of up to £50 million for new technology to support fully automated packing plants and more support to ensure that robotic harvesters are on par with human harvesters within three to five years.

“The announced funding for further packhouse automation is also welcome, along with a commitment to accelerate the development of automated combines,” Bradshaw said.

“It is important that the Government confirms these positive announcements at the upcoming Farm to Fork Summit and that industry and government can work together to drive growth in the UK food and farming sector.”