Growers are looking to recruit more British workers to help with the harvest - and plug a shortfall in seasonal labour that could result in fruit and veg being left to rot in the field.
The government is setting up a working group to encourage out-of-work Brits to consider working in horticulture, a sector traditionally dominated by migrant workers.
Growers fear they will struggle to fill seasonal vacancies when a seasonal agricultural job scheme for Romanians and Bulgarians - which guarantees accommodation and provides fast-track entry to the UK - runs out at the end of next year.
“If, when the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme ends, there is no replacement scheme, we could really struggle to get the workers in,” said NFU chief horticulture advisor Hayley Campbell-Gibbons. When the government had previously limited the number of migrant seasonal workers in 2006, growers had found it difficult to source enough labour to get harvest crops, she added.
The sector could play an important role in bringing down UK unemployment numbers, Campbell-Gibbons added. “Given that unemployment is at its highest ever levels, we need to demonstrate that we’re doing everything we can to employ UK nationals”, she said.
Earlier in May, the NFU accompanied a delegation of fruit & veg growers from Worcestershire and West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin to meet employment minister Chris Grayling to discuss how more UK workers could be recruited. Grayling agreed to set up a working group with the DWP and the NFU to explore the issue.
The NFU believes UK students, prisoners and ex-prisoners, as well as those on jobseekers’ allowance should all be encouraged to take up seasonal work.