Calls have been made for a modern ‘Land Army’ to help save harvests across the country as the agricultural industry braces itself for a labour shortfall of up to 80,000 people due to coronavirus.

Leading the call is the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which is appealing for people to take up jobs on farms.

The CLA claims that a combination of travel restrictions and illness could leave a shortage of up to 80,000 agricultural workers.

The association is asking the UK Government to step in by encouraging those who have lost their jobs to work on farms instead.

Calculating the shortfall

Government and industry figures show that over 60,000 seasonal labourers come to the UK each year to help complete annual harvests.

Yet expected travel restrictions could make it almost impossible for farmers to access the labour they need.

The CLA is estimating that 75% of these workers will be unable to enter the UK due to coronavirus-related restrictions on the freedom of movement. This leaves a shortage of 45,000 workers.

Once a potential infection rate of 20% is factored in for all workers on-farm, another 35,000 people could be removed from the workforce. To cope with these changes, the entire industry will require 80,000 employees.

Time is of the essence: vegetable growers are already beginning to crop, lambing season has reached its peak and soft fruit – which must be picked within a three-day time period – is due to begin in April.

A spokesman said: "Demand for labour comes at a time when thousands of people find themselves suddenly out of employment.

We are urging people to seriously consider taking up an important role in Britain’s agriculture and food processing sectors, which offer decent rates of pay and more varied roles than people think.

Following calls from the CLA, the UK Government has announced that workers in agriculture and food processing are to be included as ‘key workers’ and offered emergency childcare provision.

This is an immediate issue: the closure of the schools is limiting labour supplies for sites such as poultry units, fruit and vegetable planting and harvesting. These workers must be able to travel for work to avoid short-term animal welfare issues, but also ensure longer-term food production.

Mark Bridgeman, president of the CLA, said: “We all know this is a deeply concerning period and we are all determined to do all we can to help the country through it. In order to do so, we must recognise that farmers supply of labour is in jeopardy.

A shortage of 80,000 workers is something we have never seen before. This is why we are calling for a ‘Land Army’ of employees to support farmers in feeding the country.

“We need urgent Government assistance to help source workers and advertise positions. Time is of the essence as many farmers will soon begin, or have already, begun planting or harvesting.

“Farms and rural businesses are already suffering from the winter flooding and uncertainty over future international trading relationships. If we fail to find these key workers, businesses will go bust.”