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Forest fruit firm warns using furloughed workers to pick crops could backfire

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New Forest Fruit Company, strawberries
New Forest Fruit Company, strawberries

A COMPANY which grows fruit for major UK supermarkets has said it would be “hesitant” to use furloughed workers – an idea floated by environment secretary George Eustice.

The New Forest Fruit Company, based in East Boldre, warned the idea could backfire when the lockdown is lifted, leaving them without employees.

The firm, which specialises in strawberries, asparagus and other small soft fruit, employs a mix of nationalities, many of whom have worked with the company for several years.

Mr Eustice suggested that millions of furloughed workers could be urged to pick crops to avoid them rotting in the fields, due to a lack of migrant labour because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandy Booth
Sandy Booth

However, New Forest Fruit owner Sandy Booth told the A&T: “We have been busy on the farm since January and our own labour arrived in February to start picking asparagus. [Since] Covid-19 arrived, they are staying here and picking strawberries for us.

“We are currently employing 40 British workers to do husbandry jobs and this will increase to 60. To even get 40 people, we have contacted well over 100 people and once they commit to working for us, some do not turn up for work - we have had nine not turning up.”

Mr Booth added: “We are hesitant about asking furloughed workers to join us as, should the lockdown be lifted, they will leave us and then we will have a problem finding people to pick our fruit.

“In modern farming, we do not sit around waiting for things to happen, we must have our plans in place for almost a year in advance as it is not just plant and play. It is a serious business in economics and staying ahead of the curve.”

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