Concerns are rising about the lack of seasonal workers as travel restrictions due to Coronavirus mean that farmers and growers are unable to recruit temporary workers from abroad.
Last month, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) secretary George Eustice said there would be “sufficient resilience” of labour, especially as many businesses were recruiting staff that had been “laid off” from other establishments in the food sector.
The NFU confirmed that growers were getting increasingly concerned about the impact the Coronavirus restrictions are having on their ability to recruit this “critical” workforce, which grow, pick and pack fresh fruit, veg and flowers.
NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “We are in talks with DEFRA secretary of state George Eustice to find innovative and creative solutions to this urgent problem. Working with the industry we will continue to press for support from all areas of Government to put in place a range of measures that can alleviate these concerns.
“This includes a potential system to match interested workers with employers, as well as wage packages that will encourage students and British workers to apply for jobs.”
He urged British people, university students and anyone looking for work, to mobilise behind British growers in this time of national importance and pick for Britain.
‘Thousands of vacancies’
“There will be thousands of vacancies opening up in fields, polytunnels, glasshouses and packhouses across the country in the coming weeks and we need people to help deliver healthy, affordable British fruit and veg from field to plate,” he said.
The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), the trade association, said this was an issue that was shared across Europe and globally, due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
“The challenge will be particularly acute for UK production in the coming weeks across the supply chain. The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) is working with its members to support both the needs of UK production and to keep the flow of essential imports of fresh fruit and vegetables to maintain supplies for UK consumers,” a spokeswoman confirmed.
“We welcome initiatives to share labour across our sector and support from the UK Government to encourage people who are not able to continue working in different industries to participate in our essential industry.”
Environment secretary George Eustice said that farmers were doing a "fantastic job" feeding the nation.
“I have been speaking with industry about the critically important issue of seasonal workers, who usually come from Europe to pick fruit and vegetables.
“We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months. There are already brilliant recruitment efforts underway by industry and I would encourage as many people as possible to sign up.
“We will also be looking at other ways to make sure farmers have support they need ahead of the busy harvest months, while also keeping workers safe and protected.”
NFU launches online service
A new online service aimed at capturing farm business issues related to coronavirus has been launched by the NFU. The organisation is leading a national response for Government, representing all of UK agriculture and horticulture, to build a picture of the fast-moving impact of coronavirus on farmers and growers.
The new service will enable the NFU to collate information and inform ministers of the key issues arising from the outbreak and ensure farm business voices are heard from across the UK.