Extending seasonal workers visa scheme welcome - but skills gaps remain says CLA

Government also announces up to £50 million of funding for new tech to boost automation
The government says it wants to fund technology to reduce the reliance on migrant labour.

The seasonal workers visa scheme will be extended for five years, the government has confirmed, in a boost to the horticulture and poultry sectors.

But the CLA is calling for more to be done to attract people into the industry from the UK workforce, highlighting the many skills gaps that remain.

The government has announced that the seasonal worker visa route will be extended until 2029, plus up to £50 million of further funding for new technology to support fully automated packhouses and more support to follow to bring robotic crop pickers on a par with human pickers in three to five years, and plans for a strategy to enhance skills provision and attract domestic workers.

'Significant investment'

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) President Victoria Vyvyan said:

“Extending the seasonal workers visa scheme to 2029 is welcome, as migrant workers are vital for the ongoing viability of sectors such as horticulture and poultry.

“Greater efforts need to be made attracting people into the industry from the UK workforce. Agriculture is an exciting and dynamic sector, but there are considerable skills gaps and there needs to be more focus in schools and colleges on making it a more attractive career choice and encouraging those from a non-farming background into the industry.

“Increased automation will help fill labour shortages to an extent, but this requires significant investment and the costs may be prohibitive for some businesses.

“A lack of affordable housing in rural areas goes hand-in-hand with labour issues, with many workers unable to afford to live in the countryside. The planning system must support small-scale developments, adding small numbers of homes to a large number of villages.”

Reliance on migrant labour

Other details the government has announced include:

  • 43,000 seasonal worker 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.
  • Immediate work to fully automate a group of major packhouses in 12 to 18 months, which will improve understanding of the government support needed to make fully automated packhouses universally viable.
  • The government will also work with technology companies to accelerate the development of robotic crop harvesters – aiming to bring prototypes on a par with human pickers in three to five years.