Fruit farmers face labour crisis as harvest looms

Farming leaders are calling on hospitality workers to make up the shortfall of fruit pickers due to coronavirus restrictions.

Scottish fruit farmers could be facing a labour crisis if travel restrictions remain in place due to coronavirus containment measures.

Growers rely on thousands of seasonal workers from the EU to pick their crops but with that now impossible, Scottish farming leaders are calling on hospitality workers to make up the shortfall.

Soft fruit farms across Aberdeenshire, Tayside, Angus and the Highlands are beginning to harvest the first crop of strawberries.

In a normal year they would have more than 500 workers living and working on each farm to pick the fruit, but not this year.

Anna Mitchell of Castleton Fruit said: “Our strawberry season has just started so we just started our picking last week.

“We’ve got plenty of workers here at the moment but as the season progresses and we start to pick much more fruit then we will be needing more pickers.

“At the moment we have got enough people from Eastern Europe but as we get into May and further into our season then we are going to need to get pickers from wherever we can.

Farming leaders are also warning of a looming crisis if the shortfall of seasonal workers isn’t addressed soon.

Charlie Adam of the National Farmers Union said: “There is concern over availability of labour and people necessarily being off work.

“If not enough people are available then some of those processes could have to stop, and if they stop then that will feed back through to whether or not produce can actually be harvested and get off the farms into the market place shelves that we all want to fill.”

But farmers are remaining upbeat as local producers will become increasingly important as imports from around the world begin to dry up.

And in the challenge of these times some farmers are finding new ways to get their goods to market.

At Westerton Farmers, in the midst of calving, they’ve installed a pop-up farm shop – The Spud Hut – to supply locals including delivery to the elderly.

Fiona Smith of Westerton Farmers added: “The biggest change that we’ve seen is the huge increase in new customers coming through the door.

“And that has given us an opportunity to work with other local suppliers and give a much wider offering to our customers.

“There’s obviously been a massive strain put on the supermarkets and I think that people are beginning to appreciate that smaller, local businesses like ours are able to help them out and provide very fresh local foods that they can’t get in the supermarkets.”

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