Farmers in the Westcountry who rely on seasonal labour should be worried about a lack of Government action over new legislation that would allow the system to continue.
Spring flower pickers in Cornwall will be particularly affected if there is no replacement scheme when the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) ends this year.
The NFU's seasonal labour survey points to serious limitations for growers if a replacement for SAWS is not put in place. More than 95% of growers who used SAWS labour in 2012 said the removal of the scheme would have a negative impact on their business. The survey, completed by growers who employ over one third of England's total seasonal workforce, also shows that every 3.5 seasonal jobs support one UK permanent job.
Anthony Snell, vice-chairman of the NFU's horticulture and potatoes board, said: "Seasonal migrant labour is the backbone of the British horticulture industry and growers rely on it to produce and harvest their crops every year. This requirement is only going to increase as growers expand production to meet consumer demand. So a continuation of SAWS will be vital to ensuring the ongoing viability of horticultural production in Britain.
"SAWS is a robust and effective scheme, which has provided a pool of labour for the horticulture industry for the past 60 years. Workers contribute to the UK economy while they are here by paying tax and national insurance and then they return home.
"Growers who use SAWS labour really value the reliability, flexibility and consistency it offers them and generally can't emphasise enough just how vital a stream of labour this is.
"With the 2013 season already under way and growers impatient to know where they stand on this issue, the Government needs to make a decision sooner rather than later."
Those farmers surveyed employed 16,667 seasonal workers in 2012, while Defra's Farm Labour and Wage Statistics 2012 indicated there were 40,455 non-permanent workers in England. SAWS is a quota-based scheme that enables farmers to recruit temporary overseas workers to carry out planting and gathering of crops, on-farm processing and packing, with a maximum six-month work permit.