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New pilot scheme to bring 2,500 seasonal workers to UK farms

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An image of strawberries.
Credit: Karen Jackson

A nationwide pilot to bring overseas workers to UK farms has today been announced by the Environment Secretary and Home Secretary.

The pilot will enable fruit and vegetable farmers to employ migrant workers from outside the EU for up to six months. This will help farmers to alleviate labour shortages during peak production periods.

The news has been welcomed by the National Farmers Union, with NFU President Minette Batters saying that the scheme was “recognition from the government that British horticulture is a successful, thriving sector which faces some unique challenges but is capable of producing more great, healthy British fruit and vegetables".

She also said that growers will take “great confidence in knowing that they will have access to workers for the 2019 harvest”.

This pilot recognises the unique challenges of the horticulture sector, which require a high proportion of seasonal workers at certain times of the year. Indeed almost all other OECD countries source seasonal workers to pick fruit and vegetables.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

We have listened to the powerful arguments from farmers about the need for seasonal labour to keep the horticulture industry productive and profitable.

From lettuce in East Anglia to strawberries in Scotland, we want to make sure that farmers can continue to grow, sell and export more great British food.

This two year pilot will ease the workforce pressures faced by farmers during busy times of the year. We will review the pilot’s results as we look at how best to support the longer-term needs of industry outside the EU.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said:

British farmers are vital to the UK’s economy – and the Government will look to support them in any way we can.

This pilot will ensure farmers have access to the seasonal labour they need to remain productive and profitable during busy times of the year.

I am committed to having an immigration system that reduces migration to sustainable levels, supports all industry and ensures we welcome those who benefit Britain.

Horticulture is a British success story and has grown by 130% in the last 20 years. It also uses just 2% of UK land but produces 19% of total agricultural output.

The pilot will commence in the spring of 2019, will run until the end of December 2020 and will be monitored closely by the Home Office and Defra.

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