The Polish soft fruit sector might have to deal with some serious labor issues, as the Ukrainian workforce is unable to travel to Poland. Some companies have had to shut down their production completely. At the same time blueberries have endured difficult weather, in the form of a drought and several frosts in Poland.
With the soft fruit seasons at the doorstep, the country is still dealing with the covid-19 restrictions. According to Emilia Lewandowska, office manager for Polish apple and soft fruit exporter Fruit-Group, is could have serious consequences to the available workforce: “We’re expecting big problems when it comes to available labor. Ukrainians can’t travel to Poland at this time, as the government has closed the visa applications for about a month now. We expect this issue to be the largest challenge when it comes to the soft fruit. Some machinery factories have had to close down because they’re missing or have damaged parts that they currently can’t replace or fit in.”
Fruit-Group has only branched out into soft fruit recently, after and it’s been a challenging start: “We are mainly focused on apple exports, but have been expanding into soft fruit. The strawberries have already started for this season, but since we’re in the early days we do not need a lot of workers in the orchards as of yet. In June we’re going to need significantly more, which may be troubling due to the travel restrictions. Blueberries will start in the second part week of June, and they will have an even more challenging season. We’ve dealt with drought for a long time, the first real shower was only last week. At the same time we’ve had to endure multiple frosts in April.”
According to Lewandowska, replacing the unavailable Ukrainian labor will not be easy. “The work in the orchards is quite uncomfortable, so not everyone would be up for doing it. We have heard some workers from other industries, like machinery, are finding alternatives in the fresh produce market. But I don’t know if these options will be realistic. One thing the covid-19 situation has proven is that there will always be demand for fresh produce. Companies had to find a new way of working, with logistical problems as a result. But now that everything has settled down a bit, transport is once again possible. Who knows what the future will bring, but this is one of the more secure industries in the world.” She concludes.