Farmers are hopeful the coronavirus pandemic will bring local berry pickers back to the job – for good.
Fruit producers in Angus, Perthshire and Fife previously expressed concern about a shortage of berry pickers to harvest their crops due to coronavirus travel restrictions
For the past two decades, around 80% of Scottish soft fruit farmers’ employees have come from overseas for the past
John Laird, owner of Cairnie Fruit Farm in Cupar, Fife, said: “We never stopped employing local people, they just stopped coming.
“We used to get 200 pickers from Cupar alone, but by 1996 that was down to about 10 and our last local picker was in 2000.”
John said the majority of his temporary workforce harvesting berries in spring and summer now come from Bulgaria and Romania, and current travel restrictions have left him desperate for pickers.
Fearing thousands of tonnes of fruit will rot on the fields – at the risk of their livelihoods and empty supermarket shelves – farmers across the country have grouped together to urge local workers to come back to the job.
A central online hub to advertise vacancies at Angus Growers has gathered an impressive response.
Allen Innes, owner of East Seaton Farm, in Arbroath, and Rosemount, in Blairgowrie, seasonally employs around 850 people to pick around 18,000 tonnes of soft fruit across his two farms.
He said: “I’m hopeful we should have enough workers to cover the shortfall when the season starts for us around the middle of May.
“I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the standard of applicants and would like to say we are going to get some of what we need.
“There’s a fantastic opportunity here for us to help people with their income at a time when lots of people are being laid off or worried about their finances, and there’s help for us to pick our crops too.”
Allen still urged people to apply via Angus Growers as many vacancies remain unfilled across the country, adding: “We need all the help we can get.”
John said that he hoped the “energy and enthusiasm” shown by applicants lasts the six weeks before employment is due to start and that the increase in local applicants remains long term.
He said: “It’s a great job and if people come and do one season they will see that.
“It’s pleasant work, it pays well and it’s not as hard as you might think – all the plants are on tables so there’s no bending down to pick the fruit.”
For more information on vacancies at farms, see jobs.angusgrowers.co.uk
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