Non-EU migrant workers will now be able to work on British farms for six months in a new pilot scheme announced by the government.
The two year pilot will mean the UK's struggling fruit and vegetable farms are able to employ migrant workers to plug the labour drain.
2,500 workers from outside the EU will be able to come to the UK each year, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Defra Secretary Michael Gove announced today (6 September).
Soft fruit production in the UK has grown dramatically, by 130% in the last 20 years.
But the sector has seen a sharp decline in the number of seasonal workers, the vast majority from the EU, available to pick crops since the UK voted to leave the bloc.
Last year, the severity of the crisis led the leader of the NFU to highlight how "food is rotting in the fields", yet the industry sees "no action".
An NFU survey revealed that there was a 29% shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September 2017, raising the average shortfall for the year to 11%.
Whilst the government stated that it would prefer to see the industry at "the forefront of the next agricultural revolution", where technology can reduce demands on physical labour, automated harvesting solutions are currently not universally available to do so.
Instead, the short term, time-limited pilot will support farmers who struggle to source labour during peak production periods.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the government will support British farmers "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,” Mr Javid said.
“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.”
Defra Secretary Michael Gove said the 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,” he said.
The pilot will be run by two scheme operators, who will oversee the placement of the workers. The arrangements for selecting the scheme operators will be announced in due course.
To be eligible for the pilot workers must be aged at least 18 years old on the date of application and be from outside of the European Union.
The pilot will commence in the spring of 2019, will run until the end of December 2020 and will be monitored by the Home Office and Defra.
Horticulture uses just 2% of UK land but producing 19% of total agricultural output. Fruit and vegetable production contributed £2 billion to the UK economy in 2016.