Farming leaders have welcomed the extension of a seasonal workers pilot scheme which will make up to 30,000 visas available for migrant fruit and vegetable pickers next year.

Defra has announced that the pilot scheme, originally launched in 2019, has been expanded for an additional year to permit overseas workers to work on UK farms for a period of up to six months in 2021.

Industry leaders said the move would help secure seasonal migrant labour which is vital for the many fruit, vegetable and salad growers across East Anglia.

National Farmers' Union vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “This is welcome and positive news, not just for Britain’s growers but also for shoppers who want to enjoy home-grown fresh produce.

“By expanding the seasonal workers pilot, the government is sending a clear message that it is important for Britain to be able to produce its own fruit and veg, which has huge potential for growth.

"This scheme will allow growers to employ seasonal workers at key times to pick a wide variety of fresh produce on British farms.

“While this announcement is a significant step forward, we know that this will not meet the sector’s entire seasonal workforce need and we are working hard to find solutions to this extremely urgent issue."

Defra has also announced that it will work with the farming industry to build on this year’s Pick for Britain campaign to promote the recruitment and retention of domestic seasonal workers in 2021. The campaign was launched during the initial coronavirus lockdown to encourage UK-based workers to take on seasonal jobs during the busy harvest months to help keep the nation fed.

Environment secretary George Eustice said a review will also be launched in early 2021 to report on ways to increase automation in the horticulture sector and meet the government’s aim of reducing the need for migrant seasonal labour.

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said: "The announcement by Defra of an increase to 30,000 for the seasonal workers pilot is extremely welcome.

"In East Anglia, with its extensive vegetable and salad crops, plus fruit and horticulture production, not everything can be automated and we still need boots on the ground to work on our farms."