Fruit is rotting in fields because farmers can't get enough seasonal workers to pick it

Tonnes of popular summer fruit like strawberries are being left to rot because there aren’t enough people to pick them.

Farmers have warned that Britain is facing a “disaster” in horticultural and soft fruit farming if something isn’t done to remedy the situation.

Meg Marshall, from Peter Marshall Farms in Alyth, Perthshire, said a combination of labour shortages and the recent heatwave meant a whole field of strawberries had to be left to rot.

“The quality of the pickers coming from Eastern Europe isn’t what it used to be and we had a lot of no-shows,” she said. “And on top of that problem we have had the heatwave.

“So we ended up walking away from this field of strawberries.”

Rotting – a lack of fruit pickers means farmers are having to watch their fruit rot in the fields (Picture: Meg Marshall)

Even if they had managed to pick some of them, she said, it was too late, and it was likely they would be rejected by supermarkets as being over-ripe.

She and fellow farmers are calling for the government to step in and re-introduce the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme ( SAWS ) – which allows fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania as seasonal workers for up to six months at a time.


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“We have been begging the government to do something about the problem because last year most people had 10-20% less pickers than they would have liked to have on their farms,” added Ms Marshall.

“This isn’t about immigration, this is short-term seasonal workers. They get a permit and then they go home.

Over-ripe – Meg Marshall said even if they picked some of their strawberries, it’s likely they would be rejected by strawberries as they’re over-ripe (Picture: Meg Marshall)

“From the 1940s we have had the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme which worked brilliantly for all these years. We feel it would be easy to implement it once more .”

She said while farmers would like to employ local people, it is difficult because of a combination of them not wanting to do the work and minimum wage rules – especially in Scotland – making it unrealistic.