Farm leaders have called for urgent clarity from the UK Government on how fruit, vegetable and flower growers will be able to recruit seasonal workers next year.
The NFU in England and Wales says efforts to recruit UK workers to fill a labour shortfall when Covid-19 restrictions prevented foreign workers coming to British farms earlier this year had not been as successful as hoped.
The union said results from its horticulture seasonal worker survey showed UK residents made up far less than a quarter of the workforce this year.
“While there was a fantastic response from Brits to the call for domestic workers this year in extraordinary circumstances, we see from the survey results that they only made up 11% of the workforce,” said NFU vice-president Tom Bradshaw .
“Seasonal work on farms simply isn’t a viable solution for many.”
He said workers from outside the UK were vital to the success of the horticultural sector.
“The frustrating thing is this situation is easily solved with the implementation of a seasonal worker scheme, building upon the pilot scheme that has already operated successfully for the past two seasons,” added Mr Bradshaw.
“I call on government to act now, support our ambitions to lead a horticultural revolution in this country, growing the food that is so critical as part of a healthy diet, and ensure growers have an experienced workforce recruited in time to see this ambition become a reality.”
NFU Scotland horticulture chairman James Porter backed the calls and said: “Seasonal workers remain absolutely vital to the success of Scotland’s fruit, veg, bulb and ornamental sectors.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We are continuing to work hard to ensure our farmers and growers have the support and workforce they need.
“Now the UK has left the EU, Defra is working closely with the Home Office and other government departments to ensure there is a long-term strategy for the food and farming workforce.”