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Farm flooded with applications from UK workers wanting to pick fruit

PUBLISHED: 16:57 27 April 2020

Rows of strawberries at Place UK at Tunstead, which has seen record numbers of UK applicants to pick them  Picture: WENDY WILLIS-BEST

Rows of strawberries at Place UK at Tunstead, which has seen record numbers of UK applicants to pick them Picture: WENDY WILLIS-BEST

Wendy Willis-Best

More than 1,300 UK workers have applied to work on a large East Anglian soft fruit farm over the summer months in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown.

The first crop of Norfolk strawberries is about to be harvested at Place UK in Tunstead, one of the biggest soft fruit growers in the UK   

Picture: MARK BULLIMOREThe first crop of Norfolk strawberries is about to be harvested at Place UK in Tunstead, one of the biggest soft fruit growers in the UK Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Place UK at Tunstead, near Norwich, said it was taking on a member of staff just to manage applications after being inundated with 1,330 applicants.

It normally needs up to about 400 workers on its soft fruit side to pick and manage its 100ha of strawberries, raspberry, cherry and blackberry harvests – meaning this year it has many more applicants than jobs available.

MORE – Members of public call farmers to offer help with harvest

In recent years it has struggled for numbers, but welcomed a returning workforce from Bulgaria and Romania – with some of these arriving just before lockdown this year.

However, it is unclear when lockdown will be lifted and how this will affect workers normally arriving for harvest in the coming months, explained farm director Pieter van Egmond.

Tim Place of Place UK with his strawberry crop  Picture: ARCHANTTim Place of Place UK with his strawberry crop Picture: ARCHANT

At the moment, the farm – the largest of its kind in the region – has sufficient numbers, but its workforce would normally swell over the picking season. This begins in earnest next week with some early strawberries and numbers grow throughout the summer months, before dropping back in October.

“We are going to be fine through May,” said Mr van Egmond.

But the family-run company, presided over by managing director Tim Place, would be looking to recruit an amount of its overall workforce after May from the UK, he said.

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“We are now in a situation where there’s an unknown scenario with these guys getting across.

“At the end of the day we need to harvest our crop,” explained Mr van Egmond.

Once they have taken someone on to manage the process, they will then be processing applications for people to start at the beginning of June.

There would be at least one team from the UK, he said, although it remained to be seen how many workers would be taken on.

Last year there were no applications from the UK to work on the farm, so the turnaround was “pretty impressive”, he admitted.

“It has been incredibly absolutely incredible. It’s very, very encouraging. There are people who have applied from all over the country,” he said.

In a normal year, the farm received about the number of applicants to work during the summer months as there were vacancies, he added.

Mr Place thanked the UK applicants heartily for their support and said they were trying to process applications as speedily as they could. With more applicants than jobs, they were having to select the most suitable, and those with the right availability, he explained. He urged those applying to check their suitability via the ‘frequently asked questions’ section on the website.

“It’s lovely that the population have responded and put their names forward. I think it’s an amazing response. It’s really now how can we turn that into something that works for them and for us.”

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