Andrew Nottage (right) is general manager at Russell Smith Farms near Duxford, Cambridgeshire where there are seven full-time farm staff and two part-timers on 800ha (1976 acres). The main cropping is sugar beet, oilseed rape, cereals, onions and potatoes. About one-third of the land is organic and includes field vegetables.
Extra people are needed from May to November, mainly for the potato crop, but also for hand weeding and picking the organic crops.
For the past four years, Mr Nottage has been booking his students through Brighton-based charity Concordia. They come to the UK through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), which is only for individuals from non-EU countries. Most of his students this year are from Russia, with others from Serbia.
“Generally, they turn up on the day they are supposed to. We’re in an area where there is low unemployment and local people don’t want to come and hand-weed vegetables. We couldn’t grow the crops we grow without using foreign labour.
“They are here to work and they earn a lot of money. They pay a small fee up front to Concordia to find them a place. The charity sorts out all their paperwork so they are ready to go when they get here, although we have to pick them up from their arrival point in the UK. All the money they earn then goes into their pockets.”
Ensuring their health and safety is a big issue, particularly because of language problems, but one full-time worker is assigned to look after them in this respect and others. Teams are set up and Mr Nottage ensures that team leaders at least have good English.
The farm’s health and safety policy is explained to the students and they are asked to sign that they have understood it, using a colleague to translate where necessary.