It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption for many industries. However, while many sectors have needed to lay off workers or ask them to take unpaid leave, the agricultural sector is in desperate need of a labour force. Leaders in farming have noted their concern about the lack of workers available to carry out farm work, and have highlighted the need for a 'land army' made up of those from other sectors who are now out of work.
One of the biggest problems facing the UK agriculture sector at the moment is that many of the UK's roughly 60,000 seasonal workers will not be able to come to the UK as a result of travel restrictions in place because of coronavirus. In addition, there is likely to be a reduction in the number of UK farm workers available because of the pandemic.
An estimation by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) outlines that there may be a shortage of up to 80,000 workers if the problem is not correctly managed. The CLA represents over 30,000 rural firms and landowners and has concerns that crops may be left to rot without sufficient farmworkers.
The peak season for farmworker recruitment is still a few months away, but agricultural leaders must begin planning a recruitment drive. Lambing season will peak in the spring and the biggest harvests will take place in early summer. Pickers are needed for soft fruit, salad and several other crops. Some farmers have begun planting and harvesting principal crops already.
Mark Bridgeman, President of the CLA, said: "We must recognise that farmers' supply of labour is in jeopardy.
"A shortage of 80,000 workers is something we have never seen before. That is why we are calling for a land army of employees to support farmers in feeding the country."
Mr Bridgeman went on to highlight that workers from other sectors that have been severely affected by COVID-19 could very quickly join the much-needed land army. Recruitment, retraining, government support and efficiency will be vital in the fight to help the UK farming industry.
The government is also being urged to act quickly in supporting UK agriculture from the National Farmers' Union. A spokesperson for the union said:
"Growers who rely on seasonal workers to pick, pack and grade our fruit and vegetables are extremely concerned about their ability to recruit workers this year,"
There are a broad variety of roles being advertised locally, with efforts to promote jobs to those who may recently have been made redundant in the hospitality sector. However, more significant promotion from the Government may be required to ensure enough workers are recruited in time for the harvest season. The environment secretary, George Eustice, said: "I'm aware that the spread of the coronavirus is causing other difficulties for the farming community. We are exploring all options to ensure the right support is available in the coming weeks and months."
Changes in eating habits mean greater reliance on agriculture
It is not only the restriction on seasonal workers from the EU that is causing difficulties but changes in eating habits as a result of social distancing, isolation and quarantine measures. More people are eating at home to avoid the spread of the virus, and as a result, purchasing produce from supermarkets rather than eating out. Demand for vegetable boxes has increased too, with many small suppliers finding it challenging to meet demand. The Landworker's Alliance has even called on community groups and allotments to begin 'dig for victory' style initiatives to feed their local communities.
Moreover, the average age of farmers in the UK is 59 years old, which puts many at a higher risk of complications and severe symptoms if they were to contract the virus.
Guy Smith, the former president of the National Farmers Union, noted that the pandemic could really change the way the UK views food security and production. He also outlined that the agricultural sector should be asking what they can do to help in the struggle to battle coronavirus and difficulties in keeping supermarket shelves stocked.
Do I need any qualifications or experience for farming work?
There is a broad range of positions available in the farming, agriculture and horticulture sector at the moment.
Farm labour jobs such as soft fruit picking and vegetable harvesting generally require no experience or qualifications. These positions are perfect for those in other industries who have been made redundant or have lost work as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Full training will be given, and often you will be able to begin your role right away.
However, there are also many executive and managerial positions available. Depending on your background, qualifications and experience, you may be better suited to a position in decision-making or an administrative role.
As recruitment specialists in agriculture, we will discuss your career aspirations with you, and present you with the many options we have available. While this may be a challenging time for many sectors, agriculture has never been more critical. This could be an excellent time for a career move, and your expertise could contribute to keeping supply chains moving throughout the UK.
Contact our agricultural and farming recruitment specialists today
If you are seeking work in the agricultural sector, even if this is a change in career path for you, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists can help. We assist workers and professionals from all backgrounds in finding the right agricultural sector job for their skillset and ambitions and can help provide advice on how to boost your prospects of getting the role you want.
If you're looking for work in the agricultural sector, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists can help you find the right niche in the UK, Europe and beyond. We can assist in finding which doors are open for you with your specific background and even advice on what you could do to improve your prospects.
Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are worldwide recruitment experts in agricultural, food, farming and rural recruitment and have a variety of executive and management positions available within agriculture, horticulture and the food and rural sectors throughout the UK and the rest of the world. To find out more about our agricultural job vacancies and discuss your future career, contact our team of agricultural recruitment professionals. You can visit our website here: www.agriRS.co.uk or call our team on: 01905 345 155 or email us at: info@agriRS.co.uk