Farmers across Europe bank on improvised armies of pickers to save harvest, as coronavirus lockdowns have stopped migrant workers from arriving to carry out the work.
Fruit and vegetable crops in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the UK and other countries risk rotting in the fields – putrefying testaments to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It won’t be pretty,” said Eamonn Kehoe, a soft fruit specialist with Ireland’s agri-food agency, Teagasc. “If they don’t have the staff it won’t be picked. It’s a nightmare, a perfect storm.”
He was referring to Ireland’s growers, but farmers and agriculture officials across Europe have equally grim warnings about abandoned fields and lost crops unless they can conjure improvised armies of pickers.
Spain, which is the EU’s biggest exporter of fruit and vegetables, is already feeling the impact. “We’re very limited at the moment when it comes to having enough hands to pick and harvest,” said Pedro Barato, the president of Spain’s largest farming association, Asaja.
In the Andalucían province of Huelva, for instance, only 7,000 of the 19,000 Moroccan workers who normally come had arrived before Morocco closed its border to passenger traffic.
In Italy the need is even greater. Some 90% of its agricultural workers are seasonal, the majority from Romania. France has lost many of its usual workers from Spain and Poland, as well as French workers who are at home sick or caring for children, causing a shortage estimated at 200,000 people.
In Germany, which relies on about 300,000 seasonal workers each year, there is mounting concern that white asparagus – so beloved it is nicknamed “white gold” – and other vegetables will languish in fields.
The German government has launched a website called The Land Helps to link farmers with volunteers willing to help out with bringing in everything from hops to potatoes. The appeal has been made in particular to millions of people whose workplaces have closed and students whose exams have been cancelled.
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