Chris Rose - Asplins Producer Group

UK soft fruit season gets off to a slow start, labour is still a concern

The UK soft fruit season is getting slowly underway, a little later than last year due to a week of snow followed by dull days.

“The first glasshouse production is reaching the retailers now, but it is early days,” explains Chris Rose from Asplins Producer Group based in Kent. “It will be a slow build up and a while before the main tunnel crop is ready. That said the crop is looking good, but around a week later than last season.”

Demand for soft fruit is looking very good, according to Chris it has been good for a long time and has continued to strengthen as people have become more aware of their health and healthy eating.

“I am very optimistic about the continued demand.”

What continues to worry growers in the UK is the labour supply, although the Seasonal Worker’s pilot scheme has been expanded from 10,000 workers to 30,000 workers. It is still not close to the total requirements of the industry.

“The expansion of the scheme is very welcome, and some growers will also have returnees who have settled status, but there will still be shortages and some loss of crops. There was supposed to be an announcement on the final details on 12th February, but it has still to be to be made. It is very late in the day and doesn’t give labour suppliers much time to organise things.”

There is also the additional regulations around the Corona virus, at the moment in England, arrivals from certain countries need to quarantine in hotels. This will not apply to seasonal workers who are allowed to quarantine on the farms.

“Workers can be quarantined together in cohorts and they can also work together in those groups which reduces the risk of infection. There is no compulsory testing, but farmers are testing just to be on the safe side. Last year there were surprisingly few cases on farms, even when it was all new. We still can’t afford to be complacent though.”

“The UK’s reduction in cases and the vaccine roll out, may make it more attractive for workers to come here for the harvest.”

Last year growers had to make big investments to make their accommodation safe for workers, which included new accommodation, shower blocks and recreation spaces etc. This will not need to be repeated this year, but they will still have to ensure social distancing which means added transportation costs among other things.

“There has been competition with European imports especially as Spain is moving to later production areas, but possibly now since Brexit that will no longer be worth the extra cost and hassle to get the fruit here at the end of their season.”

For more information:
Chris Rose
Asplins Producer Organisation
Tel: +44 1795 594811

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