The British soft fruit sector is facing tough times this year as finding seasonal workers becomes ever harder. A combination of Brexit, Covid and war in Ukraine has meant the crop of people willing or able to come to the UK to work temporarily this summer has dwindled. Farmers have had to look further afield to find seasonal workers and this has meant more time and energy is having to be spent training people, which reduces productivity.
Chris Rose, chief operating officer for Asplins Producer Organisation, a large soft fruit co-operative of 11 farms throughout the UK, said: “It’s been a big concern.” Before the strawberry picking season got underway, “there were worries whether they would have enough people in time.” And even now as raspberries become the next fruit to be harvested “there’s still concerns about whether we will have enough raspberries pickers. “It’s tight but hopefully we will scrape through.”
To meet the workforce demand, farms have had to go much further afield – Nepal, Philippines, Uzbekistan – as well as from Romania and Bulgaria. This has brought its own problems in terms of productivity, which has an annual turnover of about £120m a year and produces 20,000 tons of strawberries and 5,000 tons of raspberries a year for supermarkets, the catering industry and wholesalers.