Coronavirus: Top-level talks to secure farm workforce

A new scheme could see thousands of British people helping to feed the nation by working on UK farms during the coronavirus epidemic.

Farm leaders and Defra officials are discussing a new system that would match interested workers with employers, as well as other incentives aimed at encouraging students and British workers to apply for jobs on the land.

See also: Coronavirus: How to find seasonal work on farms

The Country Land and Business Association suggests up to 80,000 workers will be needed over the coming months, largely due to coronavirus restrictions preventing people from overseas coming to work on UK farms and temporary staff falling ill from Covid-19.

The latest talks saw NFU president Minette Batters meet Defra secretary George Eustice this week to discuss what the union described as “innovative and creative solutions” to the problem. Other industry leaders are also involved.

National effort

NFU vice-president Tom Bradshaw said: “We are urging the British people, university students – anyone looking for work – to mobilise behind British growers in this time of national importance and pick for Britain.”

Thousands of vacancies would be opening up in fields, polytunnels, glasshouses and packhouses across the country in the coming weeks, said Mr Bradshaw.

“We need people to help deliver healthy, affordable British fruit and vegetables from field to plate.”

He added: “It is vital that government takes the lead in putting in place a range of measures to co-ordinate and support the logistics involved in mobilising the tens of thousands of British people who will be needed to bring in our fruit and veg harvest.”

Hidden heroes

Paying tribute to everyone working round the clock to keep the nation fed, Mr Eustice said farmers and others in the food supply chain faced an unprecedented challenge.

“In many cases, you are the hidden heroes, and the country is grateful for all that you have done.”

Mr Eustice said the government would be looking at other ways to make sure farmers have the support they need ahead of the busy harvest months. In the meantime, as many people as possible should sign up to the industry’s recruitment efforts.

Seasonal workers were a “critically important” issue, said Mr Eustice.

“We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months.”