Farmers know that bringing a crop to the perfect moment of ripeness and readiness is only part of the process. The job is not done until the essential harvesting, packaging and onward delivery to the customer are complete.
We consulted widely with the agricultural industry and I listened closely to representations from farmers here in Scotland about what they need for next year’s harvest. I was very clear within the UK Government that we must listen to the views of Scottish farmers.
I am very pleased that, as a result, we have now agreed to extend the existing pilot scheme seasonal workers from 10,000 in 2020 to up to 30,000 visas in 2021. This will allow sufficient numbers of seasonal agricultural workers to come in to the country and work alongside UK workers, to help Britain’s farmers and suppliers get in their harvests.
The UK Government has a long history of helping farmers get the seasonal workers they need. Since the end of the Second World War, similar schemes have welcomed seasonal migrant workers into the UK – this latest iteration shows the UK Government’s continued commitment to supporting the agricultural sector.
Farmers and rural communities in Scotland are incredibly important to the entire UK, a fact that the UK Government has recognised in the expansion of this scheme. Given the central role that this sector plays in Scotland’s economy, this change is significant.
These workers will play a vital role in helping horticulture growers harvest their produce in 2021, while they begin their journey towards reduced reliance on overseas labour.
This is through both sourcing more domestic workers through initiatives like this year’s Pick For Britain campaign (which helped raise the profile of vacancies in the sector) and greater use of automation in the coming years.
Taking back control of our borders was an important part of delivering Brexit which will ultimately strengthen our agriculture sector and the key role that it plays in our economy thanks to its world-class produce.
Today’s announcement on seasonal agricultural workers represents the fruits of our labour between the UK Government and food producers. I hope that we have delivered a solution that will enable growers in Scotland to continue to thrive and produce the high-quality fruit and vegetables for which they are renowned throughout the UK.
Alister Jack MP is Secretary of State for Scotland.