Strawberry picker

Growers will be launching a nationwide campaign to get British residents picking fruit, as fears grow over the availability of seasonal labour for UK farmers, in the wake of coronavirus.

Already suffering from shortfalls in labour, the horticulture industry is calling for the government to classify food supply chain workers as essential workers, and will be launching an industry-wide recruitment campaign to get much-needed British residents working on farms.

As the berry season nears, thousands of seasonal workers are needed on British farms to pick fruit and vegetables for UK supermarkets and fresh produce suppliers. Over 90 per cent of seasonal staff come from outside the UK.

“We are now very concerned about securing enough workers to help harvest our vital crops and get fresh fruit and vegetables to the public,” said Nick Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits.

'To help, in the next few days the berry industry will be mounting a large-scale recruitment campaign to encourage people who are in the UK and looking for work because of the current economic impact of the coronavirus to come and work on our farms.

'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 our supply chain including harvest and packhouse staff on our farms, would be protected. Without these critical workers we will not be able to get our fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm to the shops.'

Marston said the government must also provide businesses with clarity on whether workers they have already recruited from overseas can travel to the UK to work. “We need to know whether they are going to be able to travel to help us pick our fruit,” he added.

“Finally, in line with our recruitment campaign mentioned above, we want the British government to work with us to encourage workers who are already resident in the UK and looking for work and may have been employed in sectors such as hospitality to consider seasonal work on our UK berry farms,” Marston said.

With much of the country now staying home - either in self-isolation, or social distancing - and concerned for their health, fresh produce sales are high

“We are entering an unprecedented time. As restrictions on our day-to-day lives increase and challenges build, British farming and the horticultural industry has an ever more important role in helping us maintain our health and nutritional wellbeing. In light of that, we want to share the following information on behalf of the UK berry industry.”