Major concerns have been raised about the impact that travel restrictions and panic buying from consumers are having on the nation’s supply chain.
The fruit picking season is set to begin in the next few days and the crucial summer crops period is not far away, with much of this work having been performed in recent history by seasonal migrant labour who will in all likelihood be unable to travel to the UK owing to movement constraints.
The Government is reportedly set to launch a Land Army-style Pick for Britain campaign to stop the country’s crops from rotting in their fields.
The paid positions could provide an income for students, job seekers and anyone who has been laid off due to the impact of Covid-19, such as those working in hospitality and catering.
Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society which organises the Great Yorkshire Show, said an effort comparable to the hundreds of thousands of people who volunteered to support the NHS would be needed to protect the continuity of supply.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Pulling said: “Those sights of empty shelves have underlined how we all need to eat regularly. Farming in the whole food chain plays a huge part in our lives.
“When the call for NHS support came, 500,000 people volunteered overnight. We need the same kind of response to ensure that food gets picked and makes it to the shops.
“There is a concern due to the fact that some of that would have come from migrant labour. Clearly that is not going to come in so we need people to help farmers and to help the food chain continue to work.”
Mr Pulling’s remarks were supported by the Harvest Opportunity Permits Scheme organisation, which provides work placements for more than 10,000 students from Eastern Europe with UK Employers every year.
Its operations director Sarah Boparan said: “We urgently need a UK labour force who can help harvest crops to feed the nation. At a time when international travel is restricted and people are panic buying due to the Coronavirus, it is crucial that growers can provide enough British produce to our supermarkets and local shops.
“We are aware that there are many people facing sustained periods away from their usual employment or studies and HOPS can offer paid positions for those who are willing to work.”
Mr Pulling added: “When something like this hits, one of your natural reactions is to basically hide and barricade yourself in the house.
"We can’t all do that. Clearly NHS workers are at the forefront but you have other people, such as delivery drivers, who are now an essential part of the helping this country going during the crisis. Food retail staff are the same. That is why there is a duty for us to stay open. People need to be fed.”