Last year, a group of 12 growers in the northeast had to watch at least 75 per cent of their crop worth up to about £1 million rot in fields as the pandemic hit right over the industry’s prime harvest time.
Bunches of daffodils were chucked in their millions in what farmers have called “a harvest disaster” as seasonal workers were unable to travel to the farms.
This year, with restrictions on travel and accommodation not lifting until after 26 April – one month too late – and a limited number of foreign workers coming to the UK in the wake of Brexit, the fate of 2021’s harvest isn’t looking much better. Last year, the 12 farms that are part of Grampian Growers in the north east lost about 70 per cent of their crop due to Covid hitting right over the industry's prime harvest time picture: Grampian Growers
Mark Clark, of Grampian Growers (GG), a farmer-owned cooperative based near Montrose, described the current situation as “galling”.
He said the demand for flowers is growing, but there aren’t enough hands to pick them. “Flowers aren’t considered essential, so with Covid restrictions still in place, we are not getting the labour force we need,” he said. “At this stage we are about 60 percent down on the amount of workers, which means we will lose 60 percent of our crop.”
During the six to eight week picking season, the cooperative historically welcomes about 270 workers. But most of the pickers rely on nearby caravan parks for accommodation which won’t open until 26 April. “Across the farms we only have bed space for 40 percent of the squad than we usually get,” Mr Clark added. Another concern is the fear that the pickers won’t come at all.
Growers do not have the same derogation as fruit producers who can fly in workers from abroad to quarantine on farms, so they have to rely on UK pickers who work in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. These seasonal pickers usually migrate north when the season ends in the south but this year English farms are 25 per cent short of their usual picking contingent so they are expected to hold on to staff for longer than usual.
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