As growers from across the horticultural sector, may we offer you our congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Immigration.
As the MP of a proud rural constituency, you will already understand many of the challenges facing British food and farming and we appreciate the time you’ve taken to meet with farmers in the past, to listen to the concerns of those driving the agri-food sector.
While we recognise the many pressing challenges facing the country at present, we are writing to you as businesses from across the sector to ask for urgent clarity on the Seasonal Workers Scheme. We all welcomed the news last year that the Seasonal Workers Scheme is guaranteed to 2024. However we remain concerned that the number of visas falls short of what is needed to prevent further crop losses and a continued fall in UK production.
Securing sufficient seasonal labour remains an acute challenge for the sector, and NFU data shows that shortages peaked at 40% in the spring and have averaged 15% across the year to date. In particular, the horticulture sector has been significantly impacted, with UK fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers going unpicked – leading to a significant financial loss for British producers and nutritious food being wasted. While the government's own food strategy includes an ambition for growth in horticulture, domestic production is currently falling at a worrying rate and is way below its potential.
In addition to further clarity, we are also urging a much more collaborative working relationship between your department and the sector. We want to engage with you to get the right solutions in place for horticultural businesses and the wider agricultural sector too.
We therefore hope that you will take up the NFU’s offer to host you on farm to observe the challenges first-hand and to meet with those in the business to understand how we can collaborate to ensure farming businesses have the people needed to pick, pack and process high quality, affordable and sustainable food for the nation.
We look forward to working with you at this critical time for agriculture, to ensure British farmers and growers have access to the seasonal and permanent workforce needed to deliver high quality food for the country and expand our domestic production.
Once again, many congratulations. We look forward to working closely with you.
Madestein UK Ltd
Barfoot Farms Limited
Varfell Farms Ltd
Riviera Produce Ltd