Thieves threaten pick-your-own operations

An increase in people stealing fruit from pick-your-own farms is making farmers have second thoughts about the policy and is forcing some growers to shut down due to the mounting costs of security.

Farmers are saying they have caught people coming into their fields and trying to take up to £90-worth of strawberries and cherries without paying, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The secretary of National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA), Rita Exner, told the Telegraph the problem comes from more people coming on to farms without understanding the scheme.

“There has been a growing concern about thefts. That’s as a result of more people coming on to the field who don’t understand that PYO is not free food,” Ms Exner said. “Quite a few growers are also looking at introducing a system of charging people to get on to the field, so they can’t simply eat while they’re out there and not pay.

“Farms across the south east of England report issues with people stealing fruit, with police being called in Surrey.

Farmer Richard Whitman said people were coming to his Parkside Farm in Enfield, Middlesex, expecting a free lunch. “We have had an increasing problem of people coming and expecting a free buffet. Some people have a little bit of a crazy expectation that we do it for nothing.”

In Cambridgeshire and Essex farmers have been forced to shut down PYO because of losses from people stealing fruit and the cost of installing health and safety improvements to manage visitors to farms.