Eastern Europeans to be flown in to pick fruit and veg

Eastern European farm workers are being flown to the UK on charter flights to pick fruit and vegetable crops.

Air Charter Service has told the Us that the first flight will land on Thursday in Stansted carrying 150 Romanian farm workers.

The firm told Us that the plane is the first of up to six set to operate between mid-April and the end of June.

Government department Defra said it was encouraging people across the UK “to help bring the harvest in”.

British farmers recently warned that crops could be left to rot in the field because of a shortage of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe. Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus lockdown have meant most workers have stayed at home.

Several UK growers have launched a recruitment drive, calling for local workers to join the harvest to prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste. However, concerns remain that they won’t be able to fulfil the demand on farms.

One of the UK’s biggest fresh food producers, G’s Fresh, based in Cambridgeshire, confirmed it chartered two out of the six flights carrying Eastern European farm workers from Romania.

Derek Wilkinson, managing director of G’s Fresh’s Sandfield Farms division, told Us that the 150 workers arriving at Stansted from eastern Romania on Thursday will be taken by bus to farms in East Anglia to pick lettuce.

The firm said the group will be screened on arrival in the UK, will be socially distanced, and anyone found to have a temperature will be quarantined.

Mr Wilkinson said his business needed 3,000 seasonal workers, with the greatest need in May at the start of the spring onion harvest, followed by the pea and bean crop in June.

He added that the company had had a good response to a recruitment campaign aimed at local workers. So far, 500 British people have registered their interest.

The Air Charter Service, a private firm, has already arranged flights for seasonal workers in other countries. It flew 1,000 farm workers to Germany from Bulgaria and Romania in recent weeks.

The workers will board in Iasi, eastern Romania, after having their temperatures taken and filling out a health questionnaire. The BBC understands that they will be taken from the airport by minibuses to farms in the South East and the Midlands.