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Horticultural Committee Chairman James Porter's Blog - 1 May 2020

NFU Scotland remains fully committed to ensuring Scotland secures the workforce needed to ensure all of Scotland’s wonderful soft fruit and veg makes it to shop shelves and dinner plates and our gardens and parks look spectacular writes Horticultural Committee Chairman James Porter.

In any typical year approximately 10,000 seasonal workers are required for Scotland’s fruit, veg and ornamentals sector for a season that begins in March and winds down in October.

Worker requirements peak in the summer months, increasing significantly throughout May (c. 3,000), June (c. 5,750) and peaking in July (c. 6,200) before eventually dropping down from August (c. 5,000) onwards.

In anticipation of significant worker shortages this year due to Covid-19, NFU Scotland worked quickly to set up its portal for farm businesses affected by the restriction of movement and the Scottish workforce who were either furloughed or had lost their jobs during the pandemic.



I am pleased that this and other industry efforts are ‘bearing fruit’ in matching up workers with growers.

However, it remains highly likely that, despite these valiant efforts, growers will be unable to fill the worker requirements that are anticipated at the peak of the season. It is for this reason that the industry is examining all options to recruit workers from outside the UK.

Regardless of whether our workforce is recruited domestically or from overseas, NFU Scotland is in close dialogue with our governments to ensure all efforts are carried out in adherence to the best safety and medical advice.

It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to do whatever it takes to carry out effective social distancing and safety measures at this time, even when carrying out the most mundane or day-to-day agricultural activities. From the outset, NFU Scotland has utilised its multiple communication channels to highlight what is required and urge full compliance at farm level through safe and demonstrable social distancing.

NFU Scotland’s online FAQ provides a wealth of guidance and resources for our members to have at their fingertips on social distancing, employment and staffing issues, and much more – and having had tens of thousands of hits in recent weeks I am pleased that this is a resource that is being fully utilised by our membership.

Our horticultural members have kept us informed of what practices they are implementing on-farm in order to adhere to their heightened responsibilities on hygiene. These practices include strict and regular handwashing, social distancing on the farm and restricting access to the sites to essential visitors only.

This week, we also welcome the publication of new guidance from Scottish Government which comprehensively addresses key concerns regarding the use of transport and accommodation for workers, as well as a range of other essential tasks on horticultural units to ensure safety and hygiene.  You can access this guidance here: https://www.sasa.gov.uk/covid-19-guidance.

To those workers who are already out in the fields – and to anybody who is considering putting themselves forward – you should feel proud of the vital role you will play in assisting our industry provide fresh, tasty and healthy produce as part of this nation’s Critical National Infrastructure.

In return, Scottish growers will provide well-paid, rewarding work which, during these worrying times, can be carried out in the safest and most hygienic conditions, guided by stringent government advice on social distancing.

Author: James Porter

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