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Wanted: 800 Irish fruit and vegetable pickers

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A national recruitment drive for fruit and vegetable pickers has begun. (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A national recruitment drive for fruit and vegetable pickers has begun. (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A national recruitment drive for fruit and vegetable pickers has begun. (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A recruitment campaign to find 800 workers for the horticulture sector has started.

It's understood the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has written to suitable candidates on the live register regarding the jobs and is working with Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture and the IFA to match workers with growers.

The move comes after an angry reaction last month when Dublin-based firm Keelings flew in close to 200 Bulgarian fruit pickers.

The Farming Independent had revealed previously that the sector was looking to fly in around 1,500 workers, and Keelings said that attempts to recruit local workers at the time saw the company receive just 27 applications.

Under the scheme, Teagasc has facilitated grower involvement by creating an online hub where businesses can input details of available positions.

This process maps the locations, roles and numbers of workers required.

An employer relation team with DEASP then seeks to attract applicants for the roles and shortlists potential recruits.

However, the horticulture growers will be responsible for interviewing, selecting and appointing suitable candidates for the available positions.

The jobs identified by the employers will also be publicly advertised on JobsIreland.ie so that they are visible to everyone looking for employment.

Dermot Callaghan, head of Teagasc's horticulture development department, said the process of hiring local staff was a positive one but he insisted that experienced workers will still be required in significant numbers to pick fruit and vegetables this year.

Writing in the Farming Independent last week, Mr Callaghan said "blending a productive number of experienced staff with well-selected local workers may well be the optimum solution for the 2020 season".

This view was echoed by IFA horticulture chairman, Paul Brophy, who encouraged growers to engage with the multi-agency recruitment campaign. However, he stressed that growers will still require a significant number of experienced workers from abroad in order for crops to be harvested.

Much of the labour required over the next two months is for picking strawberries and raspberries.

Broccoli and iceberg lettuce growers will also need significant numbers of workers.

Meanwhile, sourcing seasonal labour for the fruit and vegetable sectors is proving a major challenge right across Europe due to Covid-19.

It is estimated that Germany requires over 80,000 workers, Britain needs close to 100,000, France needs 200,000, while the figure for Italy is 370,000.

Indo Farming