As worker shortages continue to frustrate fruit and vegetable growers, NFU officials are urging the UK government to immediately double its Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) scheme.
Ali Capper, NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chairwoman, said the government must expand the scheme from 30,000 visas this year to 60,000 to avoid a labor crisis on farms in 2022.
Ms. Capper told the NFU Council meeting in Warwickshire on Tuesday: “In July, our peak month, we were 34% short of seasonal workers. That’s the highest it has ever been. It’s a proper crisis.” The scheme was only recruiting 30,000 workers against a sector that needs 80,000, she noted.
Ms. Capper, who grows fruit and hops on the Worcestershire/ Herefordshire border, said that when she advertised for 70 workers through her local job center, only 9 responded to the advert. Only one of these was still looking for a job when they got to the interview stage, and a week later, that person had found another job.
According to fwi.co.uk, she has never known anxiety levels in the horticulture sector to be so high. Since the pandemic, about 1.3m EU workers have left the UK and returned home. Ms. Capper urged the government to also extend its 12-month Covid recovery visa scheme to cover horticulture to help the sector get back on its feet.