Casual Labour and EU Citizens in the Horticulture Market

The NFU figures that there are 80,000 seasonal job roles in horticulture satisfied by 60,000 workers (this is due to the same workers moving onto a different job role once one temporary position has finished). Half of those positions are filled by EU citizens resident in the UK and half by workers migrating in to the UK and returning home after the job has finished. These figures are based on data collected from a number of different organisations across the UK (crop associations, NFU, producer organisations, large growing businesses), but there are no official figures published.

General figures from the government are available giving details of net migration and July 2018 figures say that EU net migration continues to add to the UK population, with around 100,000 more EU citizens arriving in the UK than leaving. However this figure is lower than previous years, so numbers are falling, and the reasons and drivers are complicated.

The industry does not have specific figures relating to those who were employed in horticulture. This data is not currently collected by industry or government.

We do however, have plenty of anecdotal information, of which some observations are included below, but these shouldn’t be taken out of context or used as generalisations.


Some observations and comments the HTA has noted via anecdotes from members and relevant news articles are:-

  • Brexit has accelerated the labour shortage in the UK but is not the driver behind it.
  • Many horticultural workers have been returning home as the economic situation in their home country is now better than it was when they left, so it makes economic sense to return home. In addition we have less workers making their way to the UK for the same reason.
  • Many workers have gained skills while working in the UK which are very transferable to their home country.
  • The numbers of migrant workers returning home due to fears over their immigration status following Brexit are relatively low.
  • EU migrant workers tend to work in horticulture on arrival then move on to other industries, so the UK horticulture industry will still be relying on external labour in the future.
  • It is difficult to keep track of casual / seasonal workers as sometimes these workers may work in horticulture for some months of the year and then work in an entirely different industry the rest of the year.
  • Automation of the industry will help regarding shortfalls in casual labour (e.g. picking, potting, packing etc) however this then creates a need for more skilled full time workers to develop, manage and maintain the processes and machinery involved.
  • Other countries have a dedicated programme to attract labour from out of country, the UK currently does not have one following the disbanding of SAWS in 2013. However Michael Gove has signalled he would support a return of a similar scheme post-Brexit, highlighting the reliance of agriculture/horticulture on seasonal non-UK workers.


The Government recently released an employers toolkit for helping business support their EU Citizen employees through applying for UK Settled Status before the June 2021 deadline. More information can be found here 

If you have any information regarding your own experiences with using casual labour from the EU, then we would like to know about them.

Please contact Sally Cullimore, Policy Executive at the HTA. email:-

31 July 2018


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