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Could Brits fill the void left by foreign workers on farms amid coronavirus?

PUBLISHED: 11:10 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:10 20 March 2020

Farmers are concerned that coronavirus travel restrictions will affect the migrant seasonal workforce which usually picks and packs many fruit and vegetable crops. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Farmers are concerned that coronavirus travel restrictions will affect the migrant seasonal workforce which usually picks and packs many fruit and vegetable crops. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Out-of-work Brits have been urged to step in to help farms harvest fruit and vegetables as the coronavirus pandemic prevents seasonal workers travelling from abroad.

Many East Anglian growers rely on labour from Eastern Europe to pick and pack fruit and vegetable crops.

But seasonal labour specialists HOPS says travel restrictions and tighter border controls around the world are having a major impact on the number of people willing to travel to the UK during the Covid-19 outbreak.

With the soft fruit-picking season due to get fully under way in April, the organisation wants British people to apply for those jobs – including students and people who may be temporarily out of work because of the coronavirus shutdown, such as those working in hospitality and catering.

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HOPS operations director Sarah Boparan said: “We urgently need a UK labour force who can help harvest crops to feed the nation. At a time when international travel is restricted and people are panic buying due to the coronavirus, it is crucial that growers can provide enough British produce to our supermarkets and local shops.

“As the peak season for soft fruit picking gets underway, HOPS is calling on British workers to help support the industry in jobs that are usually filled by EU workers.

“We are aware that there are many people facing sustained periods away from their usual employment or studies and HOPS can offer paid positions for those who are willing to work.”

HOPS is a specialist in sourcing seasonal labour for the agricultural and horticultural industries, and is the former operator of the Harvesting Opportunity Permit Scheme (Great Britain) and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). The organisation is also working with The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) to help gather support from the YFC community.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How will the outbreak affect food and farming?

National Farmers’ Union adviser Charles Hesketh, who leads on horticulture issues in the East Anglia region, said growers who relied on seasonal workers were extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus measures may have on their ability to recruit workers this year.

“Seasonal workers fulfil a hugely important role in East Anglia, helping to pick, pack and grade our fruit and vegetables,” he said.

“The industry is already working hard to promote available roles locally, recognising that this could help those who unfortunately find themselves out of work. We are also urging the government to address this situation as soon as possible and to implement any solution as a matter of urgency.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Norfolk

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