ENVIRONMENT Secretary George Eustice has called for a ‘Land Army’ to help feed the nation during the coronavirus crisis.
With the nation on lockdown there are fears there will not be enough seasonal workers to pick crops during the summer months.
Mr Eustice is calling for Brits to work in the fields, echoing the 80,000 women who joined the land army in World War Two to help feed the nation.
Mr Eustice said: “Our farmers are doing a fantastic job of feeding the nation during this immensely challenging time.
“I have been speaking with industry today and in the last week about the critically important issue of seasonal workers, who usually come from Europe to pick fruit and vegetables.
“We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months.
“There are already brilliant recruitment efforts underway by industry and I would encourage as many people as possible to sign up.
“We will also be looking at other ways to make sure farmers have support they need ahead of the busy harvest months, while also keeping workers safe and protected.”
It comes as Ocado group Chair Lord Rose called for more people to work in the food industry, saying: “We need more human beings to come into our supply chains.
“There are jobs around, let’s retrain them, redeploy them and get them out into the field.”
FRUIT PICKERS’ SHORTAGE
The National Farmer Union has warned of the shortage of workers which could see good food left rotting in the fields.
An NFU spokesperson said: “Growers that rely on seasonal workers to pick, pack and grade our fruit and veg are extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus measures may have on their ability to recruit workers this year.
“The industry is already working hard to promote available roles on farm locally, recognising that this could help those who unfortunately find themselves out of work.
“We are urging the government to address this situation as soon as possible and to implement any solution as a matter of urgency.
Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who represents for Bridgwater and West Somerset, has called for a scheme that allows farmers to pay workers in cash or via bank transfer to quicken the process.
He said: “We cannot load farmers up with more onerous paperwork because they have more than enough on their plates at the moment.
“These are desperate times and the Government is tearing up the rules on a daily basis to get us through them, so a few more torn ones aren’t going to make a heap of difference.
“The difference this scheme could make, however, is that between the nation continuing to be fed and some serious and prolonged food shortages.
The scheme to find farm workers is called Feed the Nation.
It is run jointly by labour providers HOPS, Fruitful Jobs and Concordia with support from the NFU.
Since the start of the crisis it has already received more than 10,000 applications.