An expected army of furloughed workers that claimed interest in working on Angus and Fife fruit farms failed to materialise, NFU Scotland has said.
Interest in field work for the summer soft fruit season had been high among those let go from their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, according to National Farmers’ Union Scotland policy director Jonnie Hall.
After it became apparent there would be a shortfall in UK workers picking fruit and vegetables, an arrangement was made with Public Health Scotland to allow workers flying over from abroad to work as soon as they landed.
Mr Hall was giving evidence at Holyrood’s rural economy committee, where he was asked how coronavirus had impacted farming.
He said before the arrangement could be firmed up, there had been fears an “able ” and “capable” workforce might not be available.
“The challenges around the workforce in soft fruit and vegetables has rumbled on for some time,” he said.
“Initially we thought we might plug the gap of a lack of seasonal workers coming over because of travel restrictions with the significant number of people furloughed.
“We set up various portals for people to make contact and express interest in working on farms, particularly in Angus and Fife.
“A lot of people expressed an interest, but then a lot of those people did not follow through in terms of making themselves available.
“At some points there were real issues around the availability of a workforce able and capable of picking fruit.
“We have overcome that to a significant degree with the movement of people.
“We have managed to overcome (issues over quarantine) with Public Health Scotland, which has enabled units of folk coming in to essentially quarantine as a unit but still be able to work on farms.
“That has all been done with Scottish Government input too. It hasn’t been as challenging as it could have been. Through a lot of cooperation we have got to the situation where, at this peak moment in demand for people, we are in a reasonably good place.”
Growers across Tayside and Fife sent out “urgent pleas” in March for furloughed workers to join them.