Government's long-term plans for labour needs - Fruit & Vine

Government’s long-term plans for labour needs

Up to £50 million in funding for technology will be available to help reduce reliance on migrant workers.

The government has announced plans to tackle a number of current issues facing farmers across the UK.

This includes labour shortages in the food supply chain and funding for technology to reduce the reliance on migrant labour.

They hope to provide certainty and clarity for farms and other food businesses across the nation. 

New measures to support the industry

  • extending the seasonal worker visa route for five years until 2029 to give businesses time to plan effectively
  • up to £50 million of further funding for new technology to support fully automated packhouses and more support to follow bringing robotic crop pickers on a par with human pickers in three to five years
  • creating a comprehensive strategy to enhance skills provision and attract domestic workers.

Seasonal worker scheme

The seasonal worker visa route has been extended for five years, from 2025 to 2029.

Hopefully, it’ll allow farmers and growers time to invest in automation, moving away from a reliance on migrant labour.

43,000 visas will be available to the horticulture sector in 2025, with another 2,000 visas for poultry.

NFU President Tom Bradshaw said: “This will be a huge relief for the horticulture and poultry sectors that rely on seasonal workers.

“This is a brilliant win for the NFU, which has been campaigning for a long-term plan for seasonal workers for some time. 

“We’ve seen in the past how damaging shortages of workers has been.

“Approximately £60 million worth of crops were 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’s vital to have assurance that the number of visas, and costs associated with accessing them, will continue to meet the needs of our food producers. 

Further details on the number of visas available for 2026 to 2029 will be set out later this year.

Seasonal worker in apple orchard


The government say they’ve ramped up support for the use of automation in the sector.

They’ve said this will reduce the reliance on migrant workers, whilst introducing measures to promote British workers into agriculture. 

Immediate work will begin to fully automate a group of major packhouses in 12 to 18 months.

Information learned from this will help inform their planned £50 million package of packhouse automation funding.

Details will be announced later this year for 2024/25 and 2025/26.


The government have said they’ll work with technology companies to accelerate the development of robotic crop harvesters.

This will aim to bring prototypes on par with human pickers in three to five years. 

Mr Bradshaw continued: “Funding announced for further automation of packhouses is also welcome.

“Along with the commitment to accelerate the development of robotic crop harvesters.

“It’s important 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.”

money bank notes pile of cash queens face and winston churchill
£427 million will be on offer to farmers. Image Credit: Unsplash


The latest announcement comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the largest ever round of farming grants at the NFU Conference earlier this year.

£427 million will be on offer to farmers, doubling the investment in productivity schemes.

Environment secretary Steve Barclay said: “We have a world-class food and drink sector, and the measures announced today will strengthen this by boosting funding for the cutting-edge technology that will reduce reliance on migrant labour in the long term.

“Businesses do best when they can plan effectively for the future, which is why we’ve extended the seasonal worker visa route until 2029 to give farmers and growers the certainty they need to thrive.”

Domestic workers

The government has also said they’ll work to improve the attractiveness of the sector for domestic workers.

They have revealed plans to support jobseekers into roles in food and farming. 

This includes:

  • Collaborating with the Food and Drink Sector Council’s Sector Attractiveness Project Group to improve awareness of the diverse range of opportunities and career paths across the UK food chain. 
  • Provided seed funding to establish the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture (TIAH), a new industry body that will support professional career development.  
  • Working with the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver regional recruitment strategies that utilise its Jobcentre Plus network to give jobseekers the skills and knowledge they need to enter roles across the food and farming sector. 

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