The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has said the extension to the Seasonal Workers Scheme will be a “huge relief” for the horticulture and poultry sectors that “rely on seasonal workers”.

In its response to John Shropshire’s Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain, the government announced that it is extending the seasonal worker visa route for five years until 2029.

43,000 visas will be available to the horticulture sector in 2025, with another 2,000 visas for poultry. Further detail of the number of visas available for 2026 to 2029 will be set out later this year.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw said: “We have seen in the past how damaging shortages of workers has been, with approximately £60 million worth of crops lost in 2022 due to a shortfall of workers.

“We know that with the correct trading conditions there are significant opportunities for growth and the commitment to a five-year scheme is very positive.

“Moving forward, it is vital to have assurance that the number of visas and the costs associated with accessing them will continue to meet the needs of our food producers.”

Chair of NFU Scotland’s horticulture working group, Iain Brown, said securing a commitment to a five-year extension to the Seasonal Workers Scheme from the UK government is a “hard-on victory”.

“Faced with labour shortages, introducing a minimum five-year rolling seasonal workers scheme with a suitable length visa and no cap on worker numbers was a key ask in NFU Scotland’s General Election Manifesto launched last month,” he said.

“We understand that 43,000 visas will be available to the horticulture sector across the UK in 2025 and that further detail on the number of visas to be available from 2026 to 2029 will be set out later this year.

“The extension is a positive development and will come as a relief to the many soft fruit and vegetable businesses in Scotland who rely heavily on migrant seasonal workers to ensure our crops get harvested each year.

“The five-year extension provides a significant degree of reassurance and allows these businesses to plan ahead.”

Automated packhouses

The government also announced up to £50 million in further funding for new technology to support fully-automated packhouses and more support to bring robotic crop pickers on par with human pickers in three to five years.

“Funding announced for further automation of packhouses is also welcome, along with the commitment to accelerate the development of robotic crop harvesters,” Bradshaw said.

“It is important that these positive announcements are reinforced by the government at its forthcoming Farm to Fork Summit, and that the industry and government can work together to drive growth for UK food and farming.”