Coronavirus: Furlough workers urged to 'lend a hand' with UK harvest

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Environment secretary George Eustice. (Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

UK environment minister George Eustice on Tuesday called for Brits to “play their part” in helping the country’s annual harvest, as farmers across the country face a severe shortfall in labour.

Eustice said Brits should “lend a hand” in picking fruit and vegetables to prevent large quantities going to waste in fields.

“Large numbers” of seasonal workers usually come to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria to help with the harvest, Eustice said, but the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted this trend and only around a third of usual numbers had travelled to the UK this year.

“This year, we will need to rely on British workers to lend a hand to help bring that harvest home,” Eustice said at the daily Downing Street press briefing.

The government has set up a new “Pick for Britain” website to help people find work on farms. Eustice appealed to the 8 million people who have been furloughed, saying they should take a second job to “supplement” their income and “play their part” in the national effort.

Prince Charles has backed the government’s campaign, saying in a video message that the “hard graft” of harvesting would be “hugely important” to avoid food waste.

Read more: Prince Charles urges new Land Army to take on 'hard graft' of fruit and veg harvest

UK farmers have so far struggled to recruit Brits to help pick fruit and veg, raising fears about thousands of tonnes of food going to waste in fields.

Only around 200 of the 50,000 Brits who initially applied for seasonal picking jobs accepted the positions, the Daily Mail reported last month. Recruits were reportedly put off after finding that the work is full-time and requires people to be away from home in the fields for weeks at a time.

Eustice’s recruitment drive came as he updated the public on the latest figures around the pandemic. The minister said 89,784 COVID-19 tests were carried out in the last 24 hours, with 2,412 new cases. There were 545 new fatalities linked to COVID-19 in last 24 hours.