Business

Coronavirus: Thousands apply for fruit and veg grower jobs

Fruit picker picking strawberries Image copyright PA Media

Record numbers of people in the UK are looking for farming jobs, according to figures released by job search engines.

Totaljobs says it has seen 50,000 searches for farming jobs in the past week alone.

Steve Warnham of Totaljobs said workers “who have been temporarily displaced due to Covid-19 are now looking for roles in other sectors”.

The UK faces a shortage of fruit and vegetable pickers because of travel restrictions on overseas workers.

Totaljobs said it had seen an 83% increase in applications for agricultural roles in the past month.

It added that searches for terms such as “fruit picker” or “farm worker” had surged by 338% and 107% respectively.

Spike in interest

Data shared with the BBC by other job search websites suggests a similar trend.

Indeed.co.uk said that there had been a huge spike in interest for fruit picker jobs in particular. Between 18 March and 1 April, there was an increase of more than 6,000% in searches for these roles on its website.

Meanwhile, Monster said the number of UK users searching for "farm" or "farm worker" jobs had nearly tripled in the last two weeks.

Image caption Many UK growers depend on seasonal migrant workers from Eastern Europe

Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association said the surge was “wonderful news and shows a tremendous ‘can do’ attitude at these difficult times”.

He added: "Make no mistake, we still need many more to do the same.

Mr Bridgeman told the BBC's Today programme that a combination of a drop-off in migrant workers from Eastern Europe together with local workers being sick or self-isolating means "there are gaps to be filled".

However, there is a "massive surplus" of UK labour at the moment, he said, with millions furloughed from their normal jobs, rising unemployment, and students also available for work.

"The challenge is matching that excess supply that is throughout the country with the demand, both in seasonal work, and also in food processing."

Modern day ‘land army’

UK growers recently launched a recruitment drive, calling for a modern-day “land army” to prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste.

Mr Bridgeman told the BBC there were "encouraging signs" of people coming forward following this recruitment campaign "because they want to work, and they understand the need - we need to get the food onto the shelves this summer".

Farmers need about 70,000 workers to cover the jobs usually carried out by seasonal migrants, according to the British Growers’ Association.

Travel and movement restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic left a "serious labour shortage" ahead of this picking season, the association said.

There have been calls for those working in the entertainment, hospitality or tourism industries to fill the vacancies and “pick for Britain”.

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Media captionCoronavirus career pivot: 'I now work in a supermarket'

Several schemes have been set up to recruit new workers.

The charity Concordia, for example, usually helps young people organise experiences abroad, but it has signed up more than 10,000 people to its Feed the Nation scheme to help with picking. About 70% of them have never worked on a farm before.

They are mainly students but also carpenters, chefs and former service personnel. As new people arrive, they will have to self-isolate for seven days before they are allowed to start work.

Another scheme is being put together for fruit pickers by industry bodies British Summer Fruit and British Apples and Pears.

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