NFU Supplementary Evidence EFRA Food Security Inquiry



Supplementary Written evidence submitted by the NFU (FS0099)


About the NFU

The NFU represents 55,00 members across England and Wales. In addition, we have 20,000 NFU Countryside members with an interest in farming and rural life. We welcome this opportunity to submit supplementary evidence to the EFRA Inquiry on Food Security.


We note the evidence given on 24 January 2023 to the EFRA Committee by Mark Spencer MP Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries and David Kennedy Defra Director General of Food, Biosecurity and Trade. We comment as follows:


Labour Shortages

We agree with Minister Spencer that labour shortages pose a challenge to food security and welcome the increased SWS (Seasonal Worker Scheme) quota of 45,000 visas with the potential of a further 10,000 visas if required by industry.[1] The threat that a shortage of SWS workers may present to food security is illustrated by findings of the NFU 2022 mid-season survey of fruit and vegetable growers which found that:



The NFU estimates that the value of food wasted in 2022 was £60 million.[2]


Impact of technology on labour requirements

We agree with Minister Spencer that agriculture offers a huge opportunity for young people entering the sector[3] and that the introduction of new technologies and innovations may help automate the industry and increase productivity. However, it is pertinent to remember that the technologies required to remove a large proportion of the seasonal workforce are not readily available. The Defra Automation Review in Horticulture[4] found that autonomous selective harvesting technologies which offer the most potential to reduce reliance on seasonal labour are unlikely to be commercially available until sometime well after 2030. This means that a reliance on labour to pick and harvest British fruit and vegetables will remain for many years.

In addition, it must be noted that automation will not remove the need for labour in all sectors. For example, in the livestock and dairy sectors automation has the potential to remove the drudgery from many tasks but the need for people will remain to ensure animal welfare. Also, in horticulture the delicate nature of many crops requires the dextrality of the human hand for harvesting for which there is not yet a technological solution.


Domestic recruitment

Actions to boost domestic recruitment have been and continue to be made but with extremely limited results to date. These include the ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign which the NFU helped deliver in partnership with Defra. This campaign resulted in tens of thousands of enquiries from prospective workers, but these translated into low thousands willing to go on for interview and very few new workers actually accepting job roles.


The NFU has also worked with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on activities including:



Given that automation to a scale that will significantly reduce the number of workers is some years away and that it is very difficult to recruitment domestic workers for seasonal work, a reliance on the migrant workers route will remain for many years to come.


Delays and lack of certainty on the operation of the SWS visa route

Businesses needs as much certainty as possible about the environment in which it operates to plan and manage its operations effectively. Delays in the confirmation of visa numbers and lack of clarity regarding wage rates paid to SWS workers have hampered businesses’ ability to plan.


The setting of an SWS wage rate above the national living wage in 2022 was an inflationary measure that had the effect of increasing the base wage rate across the whole sector at a time when the ability to pass on increased costs up the supply chain was not possible.


In respect of the SWS the NFU asks that:



Processing industry labour requirements

We note Minister Spencer’s comments that there are no ‘current tremors’[5] of concern to government regarding the supply of butchers, meat inspectors and veterinary surgeons in the processing sector. The NFU does have concerns regarding the availability of both private and APHA vets during the current outbreak of avian influenza because of the increased workload imposed on vets as a result of the outbreak. Anecdotal evidence is that APHA drafted in vets from other sectors who were not familiar with working with poultry and adapted processes, such as allowing non-official vets to carry out tasks. The lack of availability of vets can have knock-on effects on disease surveillance and monitoring work with the result that Disease Control Zones are in place for longer than may otherwise be the case. A result is that poultry producers have to keep applying to APHA for licenses to move poultry and poultry products on and off-site. This has a financial cost as well as a time burden for producers.


A recent report from RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons)[6] found that there have been:


The report also found that there has been a decline in the number of vets from overseas. The number of new registrants who were EU-qualified declined from 53% in 2018 to 23% in 2021.


The reduction in the number of vets of EU origin mirrors the decline in the number of EU workers in other agricultural roles in general seen since Brexit and the ending of freedom of movement. Data from RTI (HMRC PAYE Real Time Information) shows that summer peak numbers of EU workers in June 2021 were 14% lower than the number recorded in June 2020 and almost 30% lower than in June 2019.[7]


We agree with Minister Spencer that the industry is ‘only a crisis away from the next need to intervene’. The NFU asks that the government considers investment in permanent solutions such as:



Agricultural inflation update

According to Defra’s Agricultural Prices Index, agricultural inputs were 45% higher in January than they were in 2019 with some items like fertiliser, which is incredibly important to food production, experiencing much larger increases due to issues in the gas market. Following gas market issues, the UK has permanently lost one of its two fertiliser factories. This has made the UK more dependent on imports of fertiliser, which is a market heavily influenced by the likes of Russia and China.


Despite rising food prices, production costs have risen far more quickly. This combined with policy uncertainty, such as reduced direct payments and clean air regulation, means that farm businesses are less able to increase production. Moreover, some businesses are having to reduce output in order to protect their cash flow as evidenced by shortages of tomatoes, cucumbers, broader fruit and vegetables and eggs.


The results of the annual NFU confidence survey that ran between November 2022 and January 2023 show that both short (1 yr) and long (3yr) term confidence has fallen into negative territory. Horticulture and poultry are showing the lowest levels of short-term confidence of all the farming sectors, reflecting the significant challenges that these sectors face. Input prices, phasing out of direct payments, and regulations were cited as the main threats to these businesses.


In some sectors, industry and government face a sheer lack of data to effectively monitor the market. For example, in apples, where energy costs for storage have become crippling, there are reports that growers are removing orchards faster than they are replacing them. Defra holds little to no data to monitor the state of orchards and broader fruit production in the UK.

At the end of March 2023, farm businesses will lose access to any meaningful support with high energy prices. The EBRS scheme guidance encouraged business to sign up for what are now very high cost energy contracts. With EBRS support ending, farming does not qualify for the new ETII scheme and are left to absorb high-cost energy contracts which will act as a barrier to additional production.





Land Use Strategy

With competition for land use ever increasing, it is vital the English countryside remains a multifunctional, dynamic space. This means allowing farmers and growers to continue providing climate-friendly food while also caring for the environment, producing renewable energy, and contributing to the UK’s net zero ambitions – delivering multiple benefits at the same time from the land they work.


With the right policies in place and with greater access to data on land capability, such as more detailed agricultural land classification, farmers and growers can make more informed business decisions and further maximise land use efficiency.


The report from the House of Lords’ Land Use in England Committee “Making the most out of England’s land” is right to highlight the need for a balanced approach to rights of way reform, and for immediate clarity on the Environmental Land Management Schemes to give certainty and confidence to farmers and growers. For the ELM schemes to be successful, they must work for every farm business and every landscape, and the NFU remains committed to working with Defra to improve the schemes.


Land use must always be considered alongside food and energy security, which is why we have asked the government to commit to at least retaining current levels of self-sufficiency while achieving the UK’s environmental and climate goals


March 2023



[1] at Q351

[2] Millions of pounds of fruit and veg wasted due to workforce shortages – NFUonline

[3] at Q352


[5] Q362

[6] retention-recruitment-and-return-in-the-veterinary-profession-preliminary-study-updated-2022.pdf

[7] Changes in payrolled employments held by non-UK nationals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and EU Exit periods - Office for National Statistics (