Coronavirus update: The ongoing challenges of labour, harvest and ornamentals

Ali Capper and her team plant new apple trees on her farm

The NFU’s horticulture and potatoes team is working hard to do everything it can to help as the impacts of COVID-19 are felt. Hear from horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper in her latest update:

We are fast approaching the peak harvest season and it will certainly be a unique experience for all of us. I know that labour concerns will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind and I hope that all of you have had some time to look at the Pick for Britain site, launched by Defra. If you haven’t already, please take a look and post your vacancies on that site or the DWP Find a Job site.

It is the culmination of weeks of work between industry and the government and we really hope it will be a valuable portal for the public who are looking to step up and bring in this year’s harvest.

Hear more from the NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman:

On my farm, we are still a few months away from the hop and apple harvest beginning but we are hard at work training hops and planting two new orchards this week. In June, we will be thinning our apples to attempt to produce the perfect sized apples at harvest.

We are lucky that several of our long-standing returnee workers from Poland made it over earlier in the year. Some of them have been with us for over 20 years and their experience has been invaluable to help train our newer local recruits.

From construction workers to brewers, we have 12 workers from the local area this year. Their dedication and hard work has been really encouraging, particularly as we seem to have experienced both spring and autumn weather in a matter of days.


This work is being fit in between seemingly endless conference calls and video conferences, talking to industry, members and government about a number of COVID-19 issues including seasonal workers, ornamentals, potatoes, cider apples and hops.

For our ornamentals growers, the closure of garden centres and florists has led to major losses for their businesses and it has fallen during the particular months of the year where they make most of their revenue. We have held several briefings now with MPs who represent constituents who are affected and this has been really successful in gaining political support.

Last week we saw Sir John Hayes, the MP for South Holland and the Deepings, with the support of 12 other MPs, write to the Defra Secretary George Eustice backing the NFU’s key asks, which include garden centres being included in the first raft of businesses allowed to reopen in the phased exit from lockdown.

We are also calling for financial grant support for those growers who have had to dispose of stock, as well as better access to existing government support, such as extending the CBILS repayment period to 10 years. Even if garden centres are able to reopen in the first wave of lockdown exit, for those businesses which have lost the majority of the season financial support will be vital to salvage those businesses and ensure we have a strong sector in the future.

Our potato members are also facing difficulties due to losing a significant market in the hospitality sector, in particular 90% of fish and chip shops. Thankfully for some there is strong demand from the retail sector but that is still not covering the entire market and we are expecting to see some crop losses. Growers will need to manage that disposal due to the crop not being suitable for AD plants or animal feed, so we have been asking the government to provide financial support for those businesses that have had to dispose of stock.

With the closure of pubs, we have the same issues around potentially surplus stocks of British hops and cider apples. The NFU is being supported by the British Hop Association, the Herefordshire Cider Fruit Growers Association and Norton Cider Growers Association to assess the potential impacts. We are working with the supply chain to seek government support for surplus stocks.

We are very aware that as we move into the peak of the harvest season, COVID-19 will bring extra costs to all our businesses. The NFU alongside British Growers Association, British Summer Fruits and British Apples and Pears Ltd will be commissioning an independent report to assess these for the supply chains and for government.

As a sector representing over 340 crop types, our members and the NFU team are dealing with a wide variety of challenges and we’re working hard to make sure these are heard by government. There will undoubtedly be new challenges for growers as we move into the harvest period, so please continue to let the NFU know about these so we can make sure we raise those issues on your behalf.

Read more on NFUonline:

Coronavirus: Updates and advice

This news hub on NFUonline will be updated regularly to keep you up to date with what you need to know and how to deal with the various issues raised by coronavirus. Visit the hub.

Click here to use the NFU's COVID-19 business impact service.

By using this form, farmers and growers can provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. The service is for all farmers and growers across the UK.

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