Scottish Farmers Recruit Thousands Of Locals To Save Harvest

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Scottish fruit farmers have solved a recruitment crisis which could have resulted in this year’s harvest of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries being destroyed.

Several thousand people, including students and restaurant and bar workers laid off due the coronavirus outbreak, have taken low-paid fruit-picking jobs in Tayside and Fife normally done by seasonal workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Farmers across the UK have warned that fruit and vegetable harvests are threatened by the Europe-wide coronavirus lockdown, which has prevented tens of thousands of workers flying in from eastern Europe for the picking season.

Recruitment agencies have proposed chartering special flights to bring in workers from the continent, but in Tayside most vacancies have been filled by locals after an urgent appeal from the region’s fruit farmers to fill 3,200 vacancies.

James Porter, a fruit farmer who helps run Angus Growers, a farmers organisation with members in Angus, Perthshire and Fife, said most of the 19 farms that took part in the appeal have filled all their vacancies.

“We’ve had a big response,” he said. “It’s very encouraging and it gives me a bit of hope we might still be harvesting our crops.” Many were students whose university courses had stopped, who normally had summer jobs.

Scottish farms produce about 25% of the UK’s soft fruit each year, he said. Angus Growers members produced 12,400 tons of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries last year.

Picking for the first crops would start in two weeks, Porter said, although picking for berries grown in heated tunnels had begun. Picking would accelerate in May and peak from June onwards.

He said fruit picking was a skilled and demanding job; it required speed, dexterity and knowledge about which fruit to pick. Migrant workers had been doing this work for 10 to 15 years, he said, and were extremely fast.

New recruits also needed to learn how to work safely with machinery and equipment, and maintain social distancing while picking to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus.

New recruits took time and training to develop the skills his normal workforce had, and it was unclear whether the people who had signed up for this season’s harvest would turn up or stay on if they found the job too demanding.

Local recruits may also leave if their old jobs return and universities resume teaching once the lockdown is relaxed, he added. “A lot of things have to line up and work this summer. We really are in uncharted territory.”

Similar problems confronted asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprout farmers this summer, he said.

“This is a big chunk of people’s healthy eating in the summer months, particularly in conditions like this [during the lockdown] where people aren’t necessarily having a healthy lifestyle, having lots of exercise and so on,” he said. “It’s all the more important to make sure we secure the healthy ingredients they need.”

Read Original Report Here By Independent

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