Speaking on behalf of the British berry industry and all its growers, British Summer Fruits chairman Nicholas Marston has issued the following statement -

"We are entering an unprecedented time. As restrictions on our day-to-day lives increase and challenges build, British farming and the horticultural industry has an ever more important role in helping us maintain our health and nutritional wellbeing. In light of that, we want to share the following information on behalf of the UK berry industry.

On labour availability

The British berry industry has for many years relied on workers from mainland Europe to provide seasonal labour to pick our crops due to a severe lack of availability of local workers. Last year 98% of harvest staff were from outside the UK. We are now very concerned about securing enough workers to help harvest our vital crops and get fresh fruit and vegetables to the public.

To help, in the next few days the berry industry will be mounting a large-scale recruitment campaign to encourage people who are in the UK and looking for work because of the current economic impact of the coronavirus to come and work on our farms.

However, we also need the government to help too. We need the government to classify food supply chain workers as essential workers. This would mean that our supply chain including harvest and packhouse staff on our farms, would be protected. Without these critical workers we will not be able to get our fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm to the shops.

We also need the government to give us clarity on whether workers we have already recruited from overseas can travel to the UK to work. For example, workers hired to pick our fruit from Romania need to be able to travel to the UK. We need to know whether they are going to be able to travel to help us pick our fruit.

Finally, in line with our recruitment campaign mentioned above, we want the British government to work with us to encourage workers who are already resident in the UK and looking for work and may have been employed in sectors such as hospitality to consider seasonal work on our UK berry farms.

On how farms are dealing with the coronavirus

Our berry farms are taking a number of steps to prevent illness spreading amongst their workforce. They are restricting access to their sites to essential visitors only, controlling who comes in and out, and questioning new staff arrivals on potential symptoms and risk of COVID-19 as per NHS guidance. Most farms are able to split their workforce into teams and keep these teams isolated from one another to prevent too many people being ill at once. The risk of spread among farm workers is also reduced by the open-air nature of harvesting activity; farms unlike offices, are large places where people can spread out.

Many farms also have a number of separate campsites which helps with the separation of groups of workers. If self-isolating is needed for any staff almost all accommodation is in large numbers of 'caravan park' style permanent units sleeping three or four persons which means anyone suffering symptoms can isolate easily in a dedicated unit and have food brought to them for the period of time needed.

In Summary

Food, and particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, are vital to all our health and wellbeing. British berry growers will continue to work hard to provide great tasting, nutritious and healthy berries during this very challenging time.

With support from our Government our growers and farms can work to provide our public with the vital fresh fruit and food they need. We are here to help."