WHEN borders close, who picks the crops? That’s been the question for many farmers across Scotland, in particular those growing strawberries and raspberries, who will see fruits ripening from May when restrictions are still expected to be in place.

Many, such as David Stephen of Redhouse of Barra Farms in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, rely on seasonal migrant workers to pick fruit on their farms from the early summer months until September.

This mixed farm, which has cattle and sheep, usually produces about 250 tones of soft fruits every year through the Barra Berries brand. But as the country went into lockdown Stephen and his wife Sarah found themselves facing what initially seemed like an impossible situation.

“We usually have about 60 or 70 workers from Eastern Europe who live and work on the farm,” says Stephen. “They mainly come from Poland, the Czech Republic and some from Romania.”

With those countries also firmly in lockdown, the farm has advertised for local workers and been amazed by the response.

“Previously we’ve not been able to get anyone locally to pick our fruit,” he says. “But this time we’ve been contacted by about 150 workers, 60 of whom are now confirmed. We’re still getting about 20-30 applications a day and at the moment we’re having to tell people that we’ll get back in touch with them in May when the situation is a bit clearer.

“Some of them are people who have travelled around and who have picked fruit in the past. Others are mountain guides who can’t get any work just now. They are mainly outdoorsy types of people. Time will tell but it’s looking very positive.”

YET even with pickers in place, life on the farm will not be easy to weather through the Covid-19 restrictions. The farm shop is currently closed and prices from supermarkets it supplies are lower. There is likely to be no second-class market either for punnets not perfect enough for supermarket shelves.

And what, Stephen wonders, will this mean for the Scottish public’s view of the role of farmers?

“I hope that it will help people better understand the importance of farmers,” he says. “I also that they will learn to cook again when they are spending time in their homes, using basic ingredients to make meals from scratch.

“All of this is highlighting the importance of food security in Scotland. We live in interesting times.”

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