Coronavirus: Out-of-work leisure and hospitality staff showing “strong interest” in farm jobs

Fenland salad and vegetable grower G's Group has reported 'strong interest' in seasonal farm jobs du

Fenland salad and vegetable grower G's Group has reported 'strong interest' in seasonal farm jobs during the coronavirus crisis. Pictured: Workers cutting celery inside a rig. Picture: G's Group. - Credit: G's Group

A major East Anglian salad and vegetable grower has reported “strong interest” in seasonal roles from jobseekers who have lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

G’s Growers said travel restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19 have made it difficult to recruit its seasonal workforce, which usually travels from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.

The company, which has its head office near Ely in Cambridgeshire, launched its Feed Our Nation campaign in a drive to recruit more seasonal workers from the UK to fill those gaps.

Anthony Gardiner, marketing director at G’s, said: “We’ve had a strong interest from students, people from the hospitality and leisure industry who were hit first and some people who were independent contractors and sole traders who may have seen their work dry up.

“We’re still not clear from government at the moment if furloughed workers can come in and harvest crops. That’s something that we’re currently looking for clarity on and we’ve had a bit of conflicting advice from different government departments.”

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G’s, which produces celery and lettuce for major retailers, has more than 2,500 vacancies across Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Sussex and the West Midlands, with the bulk in Cambridgeshire.

“Typically the roles we’re trying to recruit for the workers would have come from central Europe, predominantly Romania and Bulgaria,” said Mr Gardiner. “With the various restrictions in travel that there are in those countries at the moment because of the virus, that’s why we’re trying to recruit UK workers at the moment.”

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Mr Gardiner said G’s has not slowed its planting, adding: “We’re still going in such a way that if we have the crop we expect to be able to harvest it. You’ve got to be optimistic.”

He said jobseekers from across the UK had got in touch, and the company was offering hostel accommodation to those who do not live locally or referring them to other growers.

The urgent need to recruit people to pick and pack East Anglia’s fruit and vegetable crops has sparked calls for a new Land Army of British workers to fill the void left by Eastern Europeans unable to travel due to coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Could wartime-style ‘Pick For Britain’ campaign solve seasonal farmworker shortage?According to the British Growers Association, 70,000 seasonal staff a year are needed across the country.

Jack Ward, chief executive of the association, said: “We are working with a number of organisations to co-ordinate the response to requests to help with the demand for seasonal labour.

“We are working towards setting up a central point where we can register those that want to work and agencies that are able to supply labour and from there we can put them in contact with growers who are looking for labour.

“At the moment we are working to join the dots in terms of the operational details, and we should be in a position to have something in place shortly.”

READ MORE: Subscribe to our daily coronavirus newsletter, with all the latest from where you liveMr Ward said food and farming businesses are “in this for the long haul”.

“There are some crops which have a fairly regular year-round demand for labour, mushrooms and brassicas, but the more seasonal crops are likely to come on-stream in mid-April with the start of the asparagus season,” he said. “The asparagus season will then lead into the start of salad crops and berries.

“We expect demand for labour to reach its peak around June and go on through to late September, so we are looking for increasing numbers as the season progresses.”

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