Coronavirus: Growers 'very concerned' over current lack of labour

The berry industry will be commencing a recruitment campaign to encourage British people to work on farms
The berry industry will be commencing a recruitment campaign to encourage British people to work on farms

Growers have highlighted their concerns over securing enough workers to help harvest crops during the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

As restrictions on day-to-day lives increase and challenges build, the horticultural sector has warned that a lack of labour could affect getting fruit and veg to the public.

The industry has for many years relied on workers from mainland Europe to provide seasonal labour to pick crops due to a severe lack of availability of local workers.

Last year's figures show that 98 percent of harvest staff were from outside the United Kingdom.

To help remedy this, the berry sector will be mounting a large-scale recruitment campaign to encourage British people to work on-farm.

The current economic impact of the coronavirus in the UK has already led to thousands of job losses.

Nick Marston, Chairman of British Summer Fruits, explained that the horticultural industry is entering an 'unprecedented time'.

"British farming and the horticultural industry has an ever more important role in helping us maintain our health and nutritional wellbeing," he said.

"However, we also need the government to help too. We need the government to classify food supply chain workers as essential workers."

This would mean that the supply chain including harvest and packhouse staff on farms would be protected, he said.

"Without these critical workers we will not be able to get our fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm to the shops."

Horticultural bodies are also urging the government to give clarity on whether workers already recruited from overseas can travel to the UK to work.

For example, workers hired to pick fruit from Romania need to be able to travel to the UK.

"We need to know whether they are going to be able to travel to help us pick our fruit," Mr Marston added.

Growers also want the government to encourage workers who are already resident in the UK and may have been employed in sectors such as hospitality to consider seasonal work on UK farms.

British Summer Fruits said its farms are taking a number of steps to prevent Covid-19 spreading amongst its workforce.

They are restricting access to their sites to essential visitors only, controlling who comes in and out, and questioning new staff arrivals on potential symptoms.

Most farms are able to split their workforce into teams and keep these teams isolated from one another to prevent too many people being ill at once.

The risk of spread among farm workers is also reduced by the open-air nature of harvesting activity; farms unlike offices, are large places where people can spread out.

It comes as labour specialists HOPS said earlier this week that they are now inviting British people to apply for jobs picking and packing fruit and veg.