The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) today announced a significant increase in the number of seasonal worker visas that will be available to the horticulture industry for 2023. This will rise to 45,000 from 30,000 this year (the new figure could rise by a further 10,000 if necessary next year) and includes an early allocation for daffodil growers. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), which has been campaigning for an increase in the available workforce to meet demand in the industry, approves of what it calls a ‘step-change’ decision in the Government’s policy.
Jennifer Pheasey, HTA’s Director of Public Affairs, commented: “Defra has listened to the industry’s calls and we welcome the understanding that certain sectors – daffodil growers for example – require access to labour far earlier in the season than others. However, due to disruptions in the arrival times for 2022 scheme workers that were beyond operators’ control, there is still no clarity on whether Defra and the Home Office will allow workers to return in 2023 before the six-month no-return rule currently allows. What HTA members need is the ability to fulfil demand for their tree and plant products; without the required workforce they cannot do this. Seasonal workers are very much part of this workforce.”
The HTA has previously called for longer-term certainty for seasonal workers in horticulture. This will allow growers to evaluate labour needs more accurately over time, stabilise workforce pressures, and incentivise investment in automation technology.
At the policy announcement meeting, the HTA highlighted to Defra the recent independent Automation in Horticulture Review which recommended long-term Seasonal Worker Scheme access planning for businesses. The review stated ‘A long-term Seasonal Worker Scheme would help to stabilise workforce pressures in the sector, helping growers to better evaluate their labour needs over time and incentivising long-term capital investments in automation technology. While a new Seasonal Workers Visa Route has been announced for 2022 to 2024, the length of any future schemes should ideally match the period preceding the feasible mass-adoption of automation technology.’
Defra has stated that recommendations will be published on automation in the industry in March.
In response to the announcement, Minister of State for Farming Mark Spencer said: “Seasonal labour has long been part of the UK’s rural economy, and while it is right that we offer long term support to increase the use of domestic labour, we also need to support businesses on the back of what has been a challenging year for food producers.
“That’s why we’ve listened to the UK’s horticulture sector, and today’s announcement will provide our growers with the labour they need to bring in the harvest and continue to put their produce on our tables.”
Alongside expanding the number of visas available, the government will be appointing new scheme operators to help with the efficient operation of the visa route and help safeguard worker welfare.