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Defra Reviews Automation in UK Horticulture

Uk Horticulture

An independent review of the automation in the UK Horticulture sector has been published on the 27th of July 2022. The report has been co-chaired by Professor Simon Pearson, Director, Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology and Professor of Agri-Food Technology, University of Lincoln and, the Secretary of State for Defra. 

Horticulture has long been dependent on seasonal migrant labor from the European Union (EU) for growing and harvesting both edible and ornamental produce. Following the end of free movement between the UK and the EU and the introduction of the UK’s points-based immigration system, the sector’s dependency on low-skilled migrant workers from the EU needed reassessing and readjusting.

In response, the UK government announced various policy interventions and reviews to help support and prepare the sector. On 22 December 2020, the UK government announced an extension of the Seasonal Workers Pilot for 2021, expanding the number of visas from 10,000 to 30,000, and a Review of Automation in Horticulture to be conducted by Defra.

While the review was to work alongside the newly extended and expanded Seasonal Workers Pilot, as well as efforts to attract more UK residents into agricultural work, its remit and purpose were clear. The review was to bring together experts across horticulture, technology, and supporting industries to understand what would be required to accelerate the development and uptake of automation technologies, in both the edible and ornamental horticulture sectors, in support of the wider aim of reducing the sector’s reliance on low skilled migrant workers.

To gather support and participation from industry, it was agreed the review would be co-chaired by the Right Honourable George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Professor Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology and Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln.

The review immediately undertook a preliminary cross-sector survey to help inform the agendas of a series of advisory roundtables attended by sector experts. These roundtables covered a strategic overview and deep dives into horticultural subsectors, technology development and a wide range of supporting mechanisms. These roundtables informed the state of automation in horticulture and the corresponding development pipeline with regards to its potential to displace seasonal labour.

The review was to culminate with the publication of this report, with recommendations setting out future actions the UK government and the horticulture sector may wish to pursue. The intention was not for the recommendations to be binding on government, but for government to consider and determine which to take forward.

The findings and recommendations from the report will also contribute to decisions regarding any future seasonal agricultural workers schemes.

To read the rest of the report, please click here.


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