The government is to promote "career opportunities" in picking fruit and vegetables in an attempt to stop produce going unharvested on British farms, a minister has said.
A shortage of seasonal agricultural labour prompted largely by Brexit saw crops rotting in the fields last year after EU workers stayed away – with UK farmers losing millions of pounds.
Now ministers say the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will team up with the Department for Work and Pensions "to raise awareness of career opportunities" in the sector among British workers.
Opposition politicians said ministers were responsible for the shortages by making it harder for farmers to recruit from Europe, and claimed there is now no real plan to make up the shortfall.
In response to a question from peers about how to avoid a repeat of last year, agriculture minister Lord Benyon said: "The government recognises the importance of a reliable source of labour for crop picking and packing, and that it is a key part of bringing in the harvest for the horticultural sector.
"Defra is working closely with industry and other government departments to understand labour supply and demand, and to help our world-leading growers access the labour they need to ensure our crops are picked and not left unharvested."
The minister said the government had extended visas for seasonal workers from other countries and acknowledged "the sector’s reliance on foreign workers", with 30,000 available.
But he added: "Defra is also working with industry and the Department for Work and Pensions to raise awareness of career opportunities within the food and farming sectors among UK workers."
The government says the industry also has to do more to attract UK workers with better "training, career options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology".
The minister's comment came in response to a written parliamentary question by cross bencher Baroness Kennedy, who urged ministers to explain "what plans they have to ensure that in summer 2022 fruit and vegetables in the UK will not be left unharvested".
The renewed push comes after the government's Pick For Britain campaign flopped and was scrapped after just 12 months.
Ministers spent £30,000 promoting the scheme, which failed to recruit its target of 60,000 willing British volunteers to save country's crops during Covid pandemic.