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France: different workforce this year in the Loir-et-Cher for the strawberry and asparagus harvest

With the Covid-19 crisis, Damien Venot, farmer in Villermain (Loir-et-Cher), was forced to adapt in order to recruit the workforce for his asparagus harvest. Indeed, with the health crisis, “seasonal workers have not been able to reach France” as they usually do each year. “The FNSEA 41 employers’ group allowed me to get four Bulgarian workers,” explains Damien. “I have also found five other local workers, people who were jobless due to the current circumstances.”

The government’s appeal to help producers allowed him to complete the harvest of his 4 hectares of asparagus planted in 2017. However, he had to manage some “job abandonments” and the marketing of the asparagus through the “Asperges Chambord” group. “There won’t be much added value but at least, I should not lose any money,” explains Damien, relieved. “The workforce accounts for 60% of our production costs.”

The situation for the strawberry producers of the region is not as serene. Claude Repinçay, co-manager of Gaec de la Gaillardière, is running his farm with a shortage of staff. “Normally, I have 120 to 130 people. My teams are blocked in Bulgaria. Today, I am working with 50 people. I do not have enough employees to harvest. Normally, we send 12 tons a day but this is far from being the case. We turned to the Pôle Emploi employment agency and we are writing contracts, but many quit after half a day. It is taking a lot of our time.”

In addition to the usual local workers, the family has come together to keep the company running. “Our workforce is quite loyal. We hire about 20 pickers. We usually have a few OFIL contracts (French immigration and integration office). This year, the workers from Morocco were not able to come, so we had to make up for this shortage,” explains Michel Piquet, father of Claude. “The Polish also got stuck at the German border.”

"In order to attract workers, we published a message on the platform that allowed us to get six or seven workers. Word of mouth and Facebook also work. When people call, we explain the conditions, which are quite harsh, we even try to scare them a bit!”

On the other hand, products are selling very well. “After an atypical start, with people rushing to buy pasta and flour, normal consumption has resumed in terms of fresh products,” explains Michel Piquet, who is also the vice-president of the PDO Fraises de France and founding member of the Cadran de Sologne cooperative.

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