The government is understood to have axed the Pick for Britain campaign which strived to place UK-based workers in seasonal crop picking farm roles.
Although tens of thousands of Britons applied for thousands of roles in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, few actually went on to work on the farms, The Grocer reports.
Britons are estimated to have constituted between five per cent to 11 per cent of the 70,000 picking and packing needed during last year’s harvest season.
A senior industry source told the publication: “It might be budgets versus necessity, or a combination of both. I’d imagine it’s less to do with funding because [the campaign] wasn’t expensive. It’s probably because circumstances are different now.”
The scheme, which had the support of supermarket chain Waitrose, was set up after the pandemic resulted in many foreign workers not managing to get to Britain for the start of the harvest season.
Approximately 70,000 workers are required to pick crops during the UK’s harvest in spring, summer and autumn.
Britain has struggled to find labourers to pick its fruit and vegetables in recent years - with the issue predating Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Ahead of Brexit, farmers said they found it difficult to occupy roles for seasonal field workers.
The National Farmers Union estimates just one per cent of the harvest staff was British in 2018 - with the overwhelming majority coming from Eastern Europe.
Nevertheless, Britain’s departure from the EU meant an end to freedom of movement on 31 December 2020, which has raised fears the new rules could exacerbate labour shortages during harvest season.
While the Conservative’s new points-based immigration system rolled out in February last year only allows “high wage, high skill” workers who take home over £25k a year, providing another obstacle for the harvest season.
A spokesperson for Defra has been contacted for comment.