Pick for Britain: Britons told ‘work together’ to help farmers feed the nation in pandemic

Farmers have been warning the coronavirus lockdown left the agricultural sector with a low number of labourers available to pick fruit and vegetables across the UK. Former Conservative MP Neil Carmichael, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for farming, insisted Britons must “work together” during the crisis and said help to farmers would be welcome. Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Carmichael said: “This country is facing the coronavirus and we’ve all got to work together.

“It’s certainly absolutely right for the immediate question of picking the fruit and so forth, help of that kind is welcome.”

Mr Carmichael, however, expressed doubt on the feasibility of getting volunteers to the fields while still respecting the social distancing measures the Government has asked everyone to adopt.

He continued: “We are in lockdown at the moment so it’s difficult to see how people can be encouraged to move around to go immediately to a farm and start picking fruit and vegetables.

“So we need to bear that in mind.”

MORE ON: Pick for Britain: Farmers ask 90,000 Brits to help feed the UK as labour shortage risks crops

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Labour providers Concordia, Hops and Fruitful last month launched the Feed the Nation scheme, urging furloughed workers as well as job seekers and university students to apply for a job as a fruit picker.

According to data collected by Concordia, more than 26,000 people have expressed an interest in the campaign.

Nearly 2,000 have gone on to have interviews and are now being matched to roles and are being placed on UK forms.

The charity organisation joined calls to the Government to classify workers in the food industry as key workers to allow them access to additional Government support.

READ MORE: UK dairy farmers on the brink: Industry leaders in urgent plea to government for support

The Feed the Nation campaign, however, has been urging the Government to extend measures allowing furloughed workers to be redeployed in the farming sector.

A statement from the company said: “We continue to call on the government for further measures including allowing furloughed workers to take up employment in key work roles (including on UK farms), expansion of the Pilot Scheme for Seasonal Workers,  and additional resources to help support us, to recruit, train and retain UK workers on UK farms – and keep the country fed – this summer.”

Last week, the Treasury relaxed rules on financial support to allow temporarily laid-off workers to still claim Government help while getting paid through another job.

Tom Bradshaw from the National Farming Union (NFU) praised the campaign and joined also called on university students as well as job seekers to apply for a farming job.

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Mr Bradshaw said: “We are urging the British people, university students, anyone looking for work, to mobilise behind British growers in this time of national importance and pick for Britain.

“There will be thousands of vacancies opening up in fields, polytunnels, glasshouses and packhouses across the country in the coming weeks and we need people to help deliver healthy, affordable British fruit and veg from field to plate.”

Place UK, one of the largest fruit growers in the country, suggested hospitality sector workers temporarily off work may also be suitable to help farmers ensure their harvest does not go to waste.

Managing director Tim Place told the Eastern Daily Press: ”It is looking likely we are going to need help to harvest our crops of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and cherries in the summer, starting from the middle of May.

“The thing to emphasise is that it is going to be early-starting and physical work on your feet all day, and there are strict quality standards to follow as this fruit is for the fresh market.

“So we need to find the people who are suitable for that. My generation will remember going out picking in the fields for a couple of hours to get some pocket money, but that’s not what we will need.

“We will be putting out a call for people with the right attributes to contact us shortly. People in the hospitality industry will be used to being up on their feet for a long time, and those people could be suited to this kind of work.

“We will give training, there will be strict hygiene protocols and we will be keeping people’s distance within the fields.”

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