Tories to quadruple migrant quota for farm labour scheme

Since the vote to leave the EU, farm groups have campaigned on the reliance of the industry on non-UK workers
Since the vote to leave the EU, farm groups have campaigned on the reliance of the industry on non-UK workers

The Conservative Party has pledged to quadruple the number of migrant agricultural workers allowed to work on UK farms each year.

Under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), announced last year, 2,500 people from outside the EU can work temporarily on British farms per year.

But numerous industry groups have called on this cap to be increased as labour concerns continue.

Soft fruit production in the United Kingdom 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.

Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers has now told The Sunday Telegraph that the immigration system 'should reflect the needs' of farmers' businesses.



“Our immigration system should reflect the needs of the farming sector, and expanding and continuing the seasonal workers scheme will be an important part of that,” she said.

The Prime Minister has now reportedly signed off plans to allow businesses to hire up to 10,000 workers from outside of the EU.

An NFU survey released last month shows that a third of growers have been forced to leave 100 tons of fruit - around 16m apples - unpicked because of a lack of labour.

The UK apple harvest, worth £400 million a year, has been hit the hardest by the worker shortfall, in part fuelled by Brexit and ongoing political uncertainty.

Last year, the severity of the labour crisis led the leader of the NFU to highlight how 'food is rotting in the fields'.