Fruit picker shortage leaves British farmers accepting anyone with 'two hands and two legs'

A drain on labour from the continent could rattle the production of food (PA)
A drain on labour from the continent could rattle the production of food (PA)

Anna Mikhailova

A shortage of fruit pickers means British farmers are having to accept anyone with “two hands and two legs", a recruitment agency has said.

More than half of recruiters could not find fruit and vegetable pickers even in the "quiet" first months of this year, according to the Association of Labour Providers.

Unpicked fruit has been left to rot in the fields as a result.

Ninety-nine per cent of seasonal workers on British farms come from Eastern Europe, with many arriving from Romania and Bulgaria.

Last year, 17pc fewer seasonal workers came to the UK, the National Farmers Union said.

Estera Amesz, co-director of a Kent-based recruitment firm, has seen the number of Romanians willing to work in the UK fall sharply since the UK voted to leave the European Union. She cited the fall in the pound and uncertainty as the driving factors.

"We used to have queues outside our office in Bucharest,” she said. “30 to 40 people would come a day. Now, on a good day, it's a handful. We used to take the crème de la crème. Now, we are scraping the barrel."

Her company, AG Recruitment and Management, has now had to widen the net and considers job applicants who "have two hands and two legs, and stand a 50 per cent chance of making it,” Mrs Amesz said.

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A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Defra and the Home Office are working closely to ensure the labour needs of the agriculture sector are met once we leave the EU.

"We have been clear that up until December 2020, employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors will be free to recruit EU citizens to fill vacancies and those arriving to work will be able to stay in the UK afterwards."

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