Worker shortages could cause supply chain disruption next year, NFU warns

New survey results show farms were nearly a third short of workers in September. The NFU has warned that the supply chain could face significant disruption next year unless Government takes immediate action to prevent a shortfall of workers for agriculture.

The NFU’s labour provider’s survey reveals that there was a 29% shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September, raising the average shortfall for the year to 11%.

The survey also shows that the number of returning workers to farms, a critical source of the workforce, fell to 16%, its lowest level all year. The returnee rate had been as high as 65% in January.

Farmers are feeling the impact on farm as the cost of food production is rising through higher wages, reduced picking rates and, in some cases, non-harvesting of crops.

NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said: “The British horticulture industry is critically important to British agriculture, providing vital jobs and value to the economy.

“As an industry, we have the opportunity to enhance our home-grown food production and increasing the amount of fruit and veg we grow should be a central part of that.

“The situation for farms has become a lot more challenging and farmers are already experiencing the serious effects a lack of workers can have on a business, with some being forced to not harvest crops.

“If the industry continues to see serious shortfalls in the availability of workers, the knock-on effects for the supply chain and the public could be serious.

“Access to a competent and reliable workforce is vital for our food production, especially in a time of record low levels of UK unemployment.

“There remains a window of time between now and May 2018 for the Government to take action to prevent a shortfall and the ensuing impacts.

“The simplest measure would be a tried and tested seasonal agricultural workers scheme open to non-EU workers to top-up the access we have now to EU nationals.

“Post-Brexit, we need to see an immigration policy that is based on fact and business need and recognises the importance and seasonality of workers across all skill levels.”


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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.