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British Growers Grasp for Long-Term Solutions as Government Unveils Food Chain Strategy

British growers, facing a confluence of challenges, got a glimpse of the government's long-term vision for the food supply chain today. 

The plan prioritises investment in automation and domestic labour recruitment to bolster the industry's resilience.

A Perfect Storm of Challenges

The announcement comes after a period of significant strain on British agriculture.  Labour shortages, exacerbated by Brexit, have collided with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns linked to climate change. These factors threaten crop yields and disrupt traditional harvesting methods.

Faced with labour shortages and the increasing impact of climate change, British growers are seeking strategies to ensure the industry's sustainability. The government has outlined a response prioritising investment in agricultural technology and initiatives to bolster the domestic workforce.

New Measures

In its response to John Shropshire’s Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain, the government will implement a series of new measures to support the industry. These include:

  • 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 to bring 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.

Recognising the need for farmers and growers to have time to invest in automation and move away from a reliance on migrant labour, the seasonal worker visa route has been extended for five years from 2025 to 2029 to address this immediate need. 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.

Technology to Replace Migrant Labour

Central to the plan is up to £50 million in funding to accelerate automation and support robotic pickers, making "the UK food supply chain the most cutting-edge in the world." The government acknowledges the need for a transition period, extending the seasonal worker visa scheme for five years.

"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," stated Environment Secretary Steve Barclay.

Attracting and Training British Workers

Alongside technological investment, the strategy underscores the importance of cultivating a domestic workforce. The government will collaborate with industry and education bodies to enhance awareness of careers in food and farming.

Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), echoed this sentiment: saying "It’s imperative the sector attracts fantastic people to deliver a world-leading UK Horticultural sector from grower to wholesale and beyond."

Showcasing Innovation: FPC FUTURE EXPO 25

The consortium's dedication to innovation will be on full display at FPC FUTURE EXPO 25, co-located with LAMMA (the UK's leading agricultural machinery show). The event, scheduled for 15 and 16 January 2025 will spotlight cutting-edge agritech innovation, robotics, automation, vertical farming and more.

Jenney explained: "This groundbreeaking event won't be just a gathering but a window into the future, showcasing the most advanced technological breakthroughs in the industry.

"Attendees will have the opportunity to experience first-hand the latest developments in AI-driven innovations, vertical farming trends, sophisticated robotics and ground-breaking bio-tech advancements.

"More than just an event, in fact, it will be a dynamic forum for the exchange of ideas and knowledge."

Alongside working demonstrations, renowned industry experts will take to the stage throughout the two days to discuss the latest trends and breakthroughs in agritech innovation, offering insights into the future of high-tech horticulture and shining a light on the investments available to enable rapid adotpion.

Summit to Explore Solutions

Further discussions are anticipated at the Farm to Fork Summit on May 14th.  The government's strategy highlights a drive towards a more technologically advanced and self-sufficient British food supply chain as a response to the ongoing challenges faced by the sector.


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