Farmers warn government to ‘act now’ against food supply chain crisis

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Farmers have criticised the UK government of failing to listen to their warnings over the future of domestic food production, after it was announced the number of seasonal worker visas would not increase next year.

The criticism arose at National Famer’s Union (NFU) summit where food producers, processors and retailers urged the government to fix supply chains to prevent food insecurity.

Over the last year, farmers have endured labour shortage challenges that resulted in a mass slaughter of healthy pigs on farms, the destruction of fruit and vegetables that could not be picked on time and the disorder caused by lorry driver shortages.

READ MORE: NFU welcomes government ‘u-turn’ on Covid Recovery Visas

Despite warnings, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster told MPs that the quota on seasonal worker permits issued in 2022 would remain at the 30,000, the same as 2021.

Foster added that the government discussed allowing 30,000 workers in the country in 2022 and 2023 but is expected to cut it down to 28,000 in 2024 respectively. 

“The seasonal worker scheme at 30,000 really isn’t adequate,” managing director of West Sussex-based grower Barfoots Julian Marks said.

“Soft fruit alone takes 30,000, and an idea that you can then spread that 30,000 over the ornamental industry as well as the edible industry is crazy, and is going to create some real tensions next year.” 

NFU president Minette Batters expressed the challenges of remaining in discussions with ministers over the past year, while also getting them to comprehend the problems facing the industry. 

Batter added: “The government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.” 

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