UK residents made up just 11% of harvest 2020 workforce

The NFU has urged government to provide clarity on how farms will recruit workers next year
The NFU has urged government to provide clarity on how farms will recruit workers next year

UK residents made up just over one in ten of the harvest workforce this year despite a widely publicised Pick for Britain campaign, it has been revealed.

Results by the NFU’s Horticulture Seasonal Worker Survey show that British people made up only 11% of this year's harvest workforce.

The government's Pick for Britain campaign was launched in April as a result of worldwide lockdowns, which left a diminished agricultural workforce.

It listed recruiters such as individual fruit and vegetable farms to national recruitment agencies that had job opportunities across the UK.

But the NFU said that despite the 'fantastic response' from domestic workers this year, farmers still needed thousands of non-UK workers for the 2021 harvest.

The NFU’s survey was completed by 244 horticultural growers which recruit over 30,000 people, representing just under 50% of the workforce.

According to NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw, seasonal work on-farm 'simply was not a viable solution for many people'.

“What we’re asking of them is huge; in reality it means people needing to work in rural areas, away from their families, where they will only have guaranteed work for between three and six months," he said.

According to the survey, first-time UK resident workers stayed on the farm for 9 and a half weeks on average, compared to just over 14 weeks for first-time non-UK workers.

For returnee non-UK workers, they worked on the farm for 18 weeks, proving to be a vital workforce for many farm businesses which rely on for skills and experience.

“Understandably, these workers continued to look for work closer to home, meaning many left farms part way through their contract and leaving growers having to re-recruit," Mr Bradhsaw said, adding this impacted on productivity levels and increased production costs.

“Workers from outside the UK are absolutely vital to the success of our horticultural sector and we have ambitions to grow more fruit and veg at home.

"But this success story continues to be undermined by a consistent shortfall in workers over the past four years and rising costs.

"It creates an unsustainable situation for growers and puts the resilience of domestic food at risk," he said.