The Government has increased the number of foreign workers that growers are allowed to employ so there is no repeat of last year’s “nightmare” of unpicked crops left to rot in fields.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas announced last month that 5,000 foreign workers would be added to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme this year, and that he was considering a further 4,000 in 2010.

The National Farmers’ Union said it hoped the SAWS scheme - slated for abolition next year - would now stay in place beyond 2010. The Home Office increased the SAWS quota after only 16,250 foreign workers were allowed into the UK last year. That led to widespread problems for growers, with an estimated £8m worth of produce left unpicked. “It was a nightmare,” said one grower. “I am very pleased with this news, which will certainly ease problems this year and hopefully beyond that.”

Growers would now be able to face the new season with more confidence, said NFU chief horticultural adviser Philip Hudson. “Businesses need a clear strategy in place for seasonal labour so they can plan for the future,” he added.

The SAWS scheme might be seen as more acceptable if the UK restricted workers to Romanians and Bulgarians, said Christine Lumb, executive director of SAWS recruitment agency Concordia. “The phasing out of SAWS is still unclear and the Government keeps changing the goalposts,” she said. “There has been huge concern about the shrinking labour pool but the recent news is very pleasing.”

The Government’s decision was also welcomed by British Summer Fruits chairman Laurence Olins, who congratulated the Home Office on heeding grower concerns.

“The Government has understood that the needs of the horticultural industry are unique when it comes to the need for seasonal workers at key periods, needs that can only sensibly be provided by an arrangement such as SAWS,” he said.