Scottish berry growers need 3,000 workers to help pick crop

Berry growers have launched a recruitment drive to encourage people who have been affected by coronavirus-related redundancies to work on-farm (Photo: Angus Growers)
Berry growers have launched a recruitment drive to encourage people who have been affected by coronavirus-related redundancies to work on-farm (Photo: Angus Growers)

Scottish berry growers have launched a recruitment drive for temporary workers affected by coronavirus-related redundancies.

Soft fruit supplier Angus Growers, a group consisting of 19 farmers, need over 3,000 workers to help pick fresh berries this season.

Last year they produced over 12,400 tonnes of fresh berries for consumers across the United Kingdom.

However, this year they are anticipating a shortfall of 3,200 workers, almost 80% of their workforce, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) estimates that there could now be a shortage of 80,000 workers due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Last week, the government announced workers involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food would be classed as critical workers and that their children would be prioritised by education providers.

James Porter, soft fruit grower for Angus Growers, who is also NFU Scotland’s horticulture chair, said the sector is entering an 'unprecedented time'.

"As restrictions on our day-to-day lives increase and challenges build, the Scottish horticultural industry has a critical role to play in helping us maintain our health and nutritional wellbeing.

“For many years the Scottish berry industry has relied on recruiting workers from mainland Europe to provide seasonal labour to pick our crops due to a severe lack of availability of local workers," he explained.

"Due to ever growing travel restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, we are now facing a shortfall of almost 80% of the workers required in Scotland to pick our crops this season."

Mr Porter said his grower group are now encouraging anyone who is looking for work to visit their new recruitment site and apply.

Workers will be paid in accordance with the Scottish Agriculture Wages Order, which is based on the national living wage.

Accommodation is also available on site for anyone who doesn’t live in close proximity to one of the farms, and support and training will be provided.

Mr Porter added: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is of paramount importance, and we are following the latest UK and Scottish government advice and guidelines relating to Covid-19.

"This includes restricting access to sites to essential visitors only, controlling who comes in and out, splitting a farm’s workforce into teams and keeping these teams isolated from one another, social distancing, site lock down measures and disinfecting procedures.

“Thankfully, the risk of spread among farm workers is relatively low due to the open-air nature of harvesting activity; farms unlike offices, are large places where people can spread out."

Any workers that do develop symptoms and need to self-isolate, farm accommodation is in “caravan park” style permanent units sleeping three or four persons.

This means anyone suffering symptoms can isolate easily in a dedicated unit and have food brought to them for the period of time needed.

It comes as farm labour specialists HOPS invited British people to apply for jobs picking and packing fruit and veg.