Business & Economy

UK farms turn to homegrown pickers amid foreign labor shortage

Maidstone, UK, Jun 22 (epa-efe).- A growing number of British workers are turning their hand to fruit and vegetable picking amid a national campaign to salvage a summer harvest jeopardized by coronavirus travel restrictions.

Widely-regarded as a strenuous job, with early starts and the ever-unpredictable British weather, manual fruit and vegetable harvesting has in recent years been dominated by migrant workers, many of whom travel from Eastern Europe to work on a seasonal basis.

With only a third of those workers expected to make it over this year, the UK government has actively encouraged students and furloughed workers to fill the vacancies.

One company benefiting from this initiative is Winterwood Farms Ltd in Maidstone, in the southeast English county of Kent, just south of London.

“Covid has affected us in a number of ways,” the company’s managing director Stephen Taylor tells epa-efe. “I think one of the biggest ways it has affected us is the makeup of the people who are actually coming to do the work.”

Before the pandemic, the farm would usually rely on around 80 workers, just two or three of whom would be English, he adds.

“This year it’s probably 50-50,” he says.

The English people taking up the work at Winterwood Farms tend to either be students aged between 16-25 who are filling time they would have otherwise have spent studying and workers placed on temporary leave as part of the government’s massive furlough scheme.

Taylor says that although he has concerns about the possibility of the furlough scheme ending during the peak harvest time, he has been pleasantly surprised about how much people have enjoyed the work.

One such person is Amelia Rawstone, a final year high school student whose travel plans had to be cancelled after the onset of the pandemic.

“Instead I’m fruit picking and I’m really enjoying it,” she says.

Becky Pavey, a furloughed sport physiotherapist who lives near the farm, agrees.

“I’m unable to work at the moment due to the coronavirus outbreak,” she says.

“I’m really enjoying the work so far.”

According to its website, Winterwood Farms has already filled all its fruit and vegetable picking vacancies for the summer.

Taylor says that part of the enjoyment could come down to the ease in which workers can observe social-distancing.

“Being outside they feel a lot safer with Covid because when you’re picking crops such as the raspberries,” he says. EPA-EFE


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