Coronavirus: Farmer says fruit picker shortage could be 'devastating'

By Angie Brown
BBC Scotland News

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image copyrightAnnie Porter
image captionJames Porter says it would be "devastating" if the fruit could not be picked

A Scottish soft fruit farmer says he needs to find hundreds of pickers to harvest 1,000 tonnes of strawberries due to coronavirus restrictions.

James Porter said 200 workers normally travelled to his farm in Scryne, Angus, from eastern Europe.

But the restrictions meant they had been unable to come to Scotland.

Mr Porter said it would be "devastating" if he could not find enough people to pick the 80 acres of strawberries on his farm.

The 48-year-old said it was the "toughest problem" he had ever faced.

Mr Porter, who has both arable land and livestock on his 1,000-acre farm, said the strawberries would be ripe within weeks.

image copyrightJames Porter

He said: "My biggest challenge following the lockdown restrictions is the lack of workforce.

"I would normally be expecting 200 workers to arrive now, but we can't bring them over because everything is in lockdown.

"I'm now looking to people in Scotland who cannot go to work just now because, for example, their offices are closed."

He said a lot of the workers had been travelling to his farm for 10 to 15 years and were "very skilful".

He said: "It's very hard to pick quickly and skilfully day after day.

"So I can't expect the same productivity from people as from my top pickers.

"But If we get enough people hopefully we will manage. I am seriously concerned about this situation."

image copyrightJames Porter

Last week Scotland's farming union launched a service to help fruit and vegetable growers recruit workers who have lost their jobs or are on unpaid leave due to coronavirus.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: "Many farmers and growers are going to be badly affected by a lack of foreign workers available due to Covid-19, just when they are needed for planting and harvesting of fruit and vegetable crops.

"This shortfall of workers is coinciding with a number of Scottish and UK workers being laid off indefinitely.

"In these unprecedented times it is important that we work together to help provide jobs for those needing them while at the same time maintaining the flow of the home-produced, healthy food which Scotland's farmers, crofters and growers are known for."

Fruit farms in Angus have also created a recruitment website to try and find workers.