Lend Scotland’s farmers a hand and keep supermarkets stocked

The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland has issued a rallying call for people to assist on farms ahead of the soft fruit season staring in earnest in the next few weeks.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 10th April 2020, 4:00 pm
In short supply...fruit pickers are urgently needed to bring home the crops during the upcoming soft fruit season.
In short supply...fruit pickers are urgently needed to bring home the crops during the upcoming soft fruit season.

Thanks to the coronavirus, growers across Scotland are concerned that it will be extremely difficult to recruit the 10,000 workers that are required annually to undertake seasonal horticultural work.

NFU Scotland is encouraging people interested in filling positions to come forward – to help ensure supplies of nutritious and tasty Scottish soft fruit and vegetables are available to the nation during the COVID-19 crisis.

On March 20, the union launched an employment-matching service which has seen unprecedented levels of visits to its web page at www.nfus.org.uk/coronavirus/employment-opportunities-on-farms.aspx.

It has already successfully matched a number of Scottish growers to available workers.

But it hopes to see many more, in light of the HMRC confirming that employees who’ve been furloughed can take up alternative employment on a temporary basis – if contractually enabled to do so by their employer.

On March 30, the EU Commission also published a communication relating to the free movement of critical mobile workers, including seasonal agricultural workers.

This could provide significant relief to Scottish growers and is something NFU Scotland is already discussing with the UK Government.

James Porter, who farms in Angus and is NFU Scotland’s horticultural working group chairman, said: “In any typical year, 10,000 workers will travel to Scotland from overseas to undertake seasonal work.

“Due to the global health crisis, growers are concerned that there will be a significant shortfall in workers.

“So that we can ensure that Scotland’s soft fruit and vegetables gets into the food supply chain to be enjoyed across the country, we need all hands to the pump if we’re to ensure harvesting, packing and distribution can continue.

“The initial feedback from NFU Scotland’s employment-matching service is hugely encouraging and I am delighted it has already proven successful in matching individuals who found themselves out of work due to the public health crisis with essential employment in our countryside.

“With the clarification from HMRC that furloughed workers will be able to take up other work on a temporary basis, I hope we might encourage them to view our initiative as a way to top up their wages.

“However, it remains unlikely that we will be able to recruit the sheer volume of workers needed in Scotland during the high seasons.

“As such, NFU Scotland is calling on the UK Government to ensure its participation in the EU Commission’s guidelines which ensure the exchange of seasonal agricultural workers between member states so that critical harvesting, planting and tending can be carried out.”