Up to 40,000 workers will be needed to pick crops this summer, warns horticulture industry

PUBLISHED: 11:04 16 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:04 16 April 2020

A worker in the fields picking strawberries. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA.

A worker in the fields picking strawberries. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

As the first flights of 180 Romanian workers arrives in the UK to help pick fruit and vegetables, one leading voice in the horticulture sector has said the demand will continue to grow.

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Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, was speaking after reports of Romanian workers were being urgently flown in as pickers to help farmers across Britain after it emerged that not enough Britons registered to work on farms.

He said that as the UK reaches asparagus season, just 5,000 pickers will be needed to help with picking crops.

But the “crunch” will come from May onwards when 35,000 to 40,000 workers will be needed to pick foods such as lettuce and berries.

“This is a long game,” he told the PA news agency. “The salad season will run well into October and growers have got to be very confident that they have got enough labour for the entire season.

“We could be in a very different situation let’s say by July 1.

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“What we can’t do is go ‘OK, we had a terrific number of volunteers for the first eight weeks of the season and then they all went back to work and we haven’t got anybody left’.”

He added that it is “too early to tell” if there could be more charter flights.

Ward expected the “vast majority” of seasonal workers this year will be British but that businesses cannot run “on enthusiasm alone”.

“When you’re operating on the scale (that large food producers) are, you do need a few people around who know what they’re doing,” he said. “You just can’t run these businesses on enthusiasm alone.”

He said that, historically, a “significant proportion” of pickers come from Eastern Europe and return year after year.

“I think what that workforce provides is a bit of experience and know-how to mix in this year with the people who have never done this before,” said Ward.

But he said that there had been a “terrific response” to recruit more British workers this year.

“If anything we’ve been overwhelmed with offers of help,” he said. “It’s been an amazing response.”

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