Shropshire farmers struggle to fill fruit picking roles as 'land army' plea falls flat

The food industry could be in “a lot of trouble” if Shropshire’s fruit and vegetable farms cannot get workers in amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Stock image of strawberry plants
Stock image of strawberry plants

The government launched a Second World War-style ‘Land Army’ call for fruit pickers due to difficulties in getting European workers over while the pandemic is ongoing.

But farmers in the region say they are finding few furloughed or out-of-work employees who want the roles, meaning fruit will end up rotting in fields.

Dan Morris, a beef farmer and Shrewsbury councillor, said he is aware of a major shortfall across Shropshire, adding: “If we can’t get the people to help with the harvest, it will end up rotting in the field and getting ploughed in.

"Once things like strawberries and lettuce are ready, you have a very small window to harvest it.

"People have to want to do it. If farms can’t get the people, it will knock on to the supply in the supermarkets, which would be a lot of trouble.”

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The campaign to recruit as many as 90,000 UK-based pickers is being backed by Environment Secretary George Eustice who said: “We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plate.”

But PDM Produce near Newport has had only had 91 UK applicants for 300 vacancies for its summer harvest. European workers are now being brought in under “strict protocols” to help.

The company says it has no option but to look elsewhere if it is to be “operationally efficient”.

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