The labor shortages in Finland caused by the mobility restrictions introduced to stop the spread of the pandemic have led many Finns to go back to the fields to save their crops. This is confirmed by Vesa Koivistoinen, owner of the largest strawberry plantation in Finland, who for the first time in 22 years has employed Finnish people for the harvest. "This is a very unusual situation," says the producer from Hollola.
When the travel restrictions because of COVID-19 were implemented in the spring, agricultural organizations and the government quickly feared a shortage of workers and launched several hiring campaigns. This year, only a third of the usual 16,000 temporary workers came from abroad, and all of them from Ukraine, says Kati Kuula, head of a recruitment project within the main Finnish agricultural union MTK.
Vesa Koivistoinen explains that a 10% wage premium has been granted to their Finnish workers, even though they are not as quick as the more experienced Ukrainian workforce. This increase in wages entails higher costs, but Koivistoinen is considering hiring local workers in the future. "We wanted to be able to employ Finns because many other companies cannot offer seasonal jobs this year," he says.
Blueberries in danger
While the local workforce has come to the rescue of strawberry producers, the fate of blueberries, a cornerstone of Finnish agriculture, raises more concerns.
Every year, Finnish industries (from food to cosmetics) need 20,000 tons of a European variety of blueberries which is not grown in fields, but grows abundantly in the forests.
Most of these blueberries are generally picked by Thai workers in the Nordic country for just a few months, until the end of summer. As travel restrictions are in force, none of them have arrived this year.
To fill this gap, messages on social media are inviting "all Finns of working age to pick a bucket of blueberries" to prevent the loss of the season.
However, the companies don't seem reassured and have reported that this season they will import their blueberries from Poland or Russia; a step that could lead to prices rising in stores.