Everything you need to know about joining the land army on Gloucestershire farms this summer

Gloucestershire workers who have lost jobs in cafes, pubs and other industries need to move quick if they want to join the land army. Farmers in and around Gloucestershire have raised fears their crops will rot in the fields if they cannot get enough people to pick and pack them. Some farmers have already started flying in willing Romanians to do the work because there is a shortage of labour.

And arable farms in this area are currently advertising for the people to harvest everything from asparagus to cherries with strawberries pickers in particular demand. This week a charter plane full of fruit and vegetable pickers from Romania arrived at Stansted aiport and many more flights are expected over the coming weeks. Food giants G's Fresh are said to have paid around GBP40,000 to charter the Titan Airways AirBus 320 flight to bring over 150 Romanians to pick lettuces in the fields of Cambridgeshire.

And The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) expect more workers to be flown in from abroad despite the Covid-19 restrictions because farmers are in desperate need of labour.

'We need more pickers'

"Over 30,000 people have come forward to help farmers, following the call to 'Feed the Nation', through the COVID-19 pandemic," CLA President Mark Bridgeman told the MailOnline. "This is great news and shows a tremendous attitude at these difficult times. But this excellent response in not enough - we need 80,000 people to ensure fruit and vegetables are picked on time this summer."

The area between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire is prime agricultural country with large farming operations that employ thousands of seasonal workers. With the lockdown extended for another three weeks and some suggesting the hospitality and tourism industries will be closed until a vaccine is found, many are eyeing jobs in this sector to to tide them over. Trade body British Apples and Pears need people to work in the many orchards in this area from May.

British Summer Fruits represents 95 per cent of growers and its website lists seven farms between Gloucester and Hereford that have vacancies ranging from fruit pickers to fork lift truck drivers.

Eric Drummond farms near Ross-on-Wye and his farm is currently one of the farms listed with British Summer Fruits as needing staff to work in various areas including packing, maintenance and picking. His farm has put a facebook appeal out for workers. British Summer Fruits chairman Nick Marston says many workers from abroad now live here permanently but the farms will still need more seasonal staff to harvest strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

He says to apply direct but many farms, including Cobrey Farms which operates around Ross on Wye and Redmarley, have been so overwhelmed with first time applicants in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis they are recruiting through Brighton-based Concordia which has received 35,000 applications of interest.

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Concordia told The Guardian that around half came from people in the UK who had lost their jobs but so far only 16 per cent, 5,500 people, had opted to interview for a role after learning all about the work. However there is clearly a lot of interest because last week the BBC released data from job search engines which suggests tens of thousands of people are considering working on farms this summer. Totaljobs, Indeed.co.uk and Monster all said there had been massive surges in searches for farm work.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said growers are extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions may have on their ability to recruit critical seasonal workforce. "I would encourage anyone who is interested in helping pick for Britain this summer to contact one of the approved agricultural recruiters," he told the BBC.

Everything you need to know about joining the land army on Gloucestershire farms this summer

The stuff you need to know

Consider looking in the fruit-growing areas around Newent or towards Evesham for vegetables. You can apply through central recruiters like Concordia but some farms want you to send CVs direct.

Check out the websites. Most of the jobs start in April or May when the fruit harvest gets underway and on average will last until October. As key workers fruit pickers and packers will be able to travel to and from work and send their children to school.

Furloughed workers, those with their jobs on hold, can also apply for the jobs say the Government. Basic work can still take several weeks to learn but training is usually paid. Most farms use a piecework system but the national minimum wage still applies.

According to the trade body the typical hourly pay ranges from GBP9 to GBP11 per hour but productivity bonuses can increase this to up to GBP14 per hour for the most efficient staff.

Everything you need to know about joining the land army on Gloucestershire farms this summer

Websites say most staff will work eight hour days six days a week and there are often early starts. However how many hours you get can depend on the weather, how good the crop is and demand from the supermarkets so it's not always in your hands. Staff have to be aged over 18 and in many cases they can choose to live in three and four berth caravans on the farms.

This year the maximum rent per person for accommodation is GBP52.85 a week each. During the lockdown this means everybody in a caravan can be treated as a household for social distancing purposes but if one member becomes ill everyone will have to self-isolate as well. Staff are being told that farms have put in the correct procedures around safe working conditions during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Because the plants are now grown off the ground, strawberry picking tends to mean using a trolley to pick the fruit into punnets rather than back-breaking bending down.

Everything you need to know about joining the land army on Gloucestershire farms this summer

But even though this might be easier Mr Drummond's website warns applicants not to expect a holiday camp and says: "The work is very hard and involves much bending, twisting and lifting so you will need to have good physical fitness."

And Concordia says: "Working on farms can be tough - it can be hard work, long hours, early starts, in sometimes difficult weather conditions.

We want to be open and honest with you."

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