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Farming - The new 'land army'

Seasonal work: strawberry picking in the UK. Photo Tommy Lee Walker/shutterstock.com

Thousands applied to become agricultural and horticultural workers after appeals by government and farmers for a new “land army” to help prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste during the coming period.

Job search engines reported massive spikes in workers looking for farming jobs – one saw 50,000 searches in one week alone in early April. 

The British Growers Association calculates it needs about 70,000 British workers to fill the jobs usually filled by seasonal labour, mostly from Eastern Europe. The response was huge. One recruiter, charity Concordia, has alone signed up 10,000 would-be pickers to its Feed the Nation scheme.

There were howls from employers when Home Secretary Priti Patel warned in February that when we finally leave the EU importing cheap labour would no longer be an option. 

Would they have to train British workers to do the work? Would they have to offer decent wages and conditions to recruit a native workforce? They said crops would rot unless they could recruit directly from Poland and Bulgaria.

Now the myth that British workers are too lazy to do the jobs has been exposed by the coronavirus crisis.

But some farmers haven’t given up so easily. A group of them organised a series of “socially distancing” flights from private firm Air Charter Service to bring Romanian farm workers.

• A longer version of this article is on the web at www.cpbml.org.uk.