Cambridgeshire

Fruit and veg growers call for workers to 'feed the nation'

strawberries Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fruit and vegetable growers are desperate for more staff to help gather crops

UK growers have launched a recruitment drive, calling for a modern-day "land army" to prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and veg going to waste.

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

The key workers will still adhere to social distancing rules in the fields.

The National Farmer's Union (NFU) said temporary workers would "contribute to the health of the nation".

Travel and movement restrictions caused by the pandemic have left a "serious labour shortage" as the picking season starts.

Adverts appearing in newspapers and across social media will use the slogan "Feed Our Nation" from Tuesday.

It follows similar recruitment drives by supermarkets, overwhelmed by panic-buying as shoppers rush to stock up amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jack Ward, of the British Growers' Association, said it presented "a great opportunity for anyone wanting to get involved in making sure the nation's fruit and vegetable crops get to our consumers".

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

Ali Capper of the NFU, who runs a hops and apple farm in Worcestershire, said the industry needed "as much help from society at this time".

"The main season starts in April with lettuce and asparagus and goes through to the end of October with apples and pears," she said.

She called on "young, fit" university students and people who have found themselves out of work to join the farming and food industry during the crisis.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables are produced every season in the Cambridgeshire Fens

Cambridgeshire-based grower, G's, which produces celery and lettuce for major retailers, is offering £400 a week to temporary workers.

The firm said it had "more than 2,500 vacancies across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Sussex and the West Midlands".

Nick Marston of British Summer Fruits, which represents strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and blackberry growers in the UK, said 98% of harvest staff last year came from overseas.

"We need clarity on whether workers we have already recruited from overseas can travel to the UK to work," he said.

"The government has classified food supply chain workers as 'key workers' and this is helping to protect our supply chain getting fresh fruit and vegetables from the field on the farm to the shops."

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