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Fruit Pickers Fear Efforts Wasted in Face of Imports

Angus fruit pickers fear their efforts are going to waste as almost 20,000 punnets of freshly-picked strawberries lie unsold in an Auchmithie cold store while local supermarket shelves bulge with imported Spanish fruit.

Seahills farmer Peter Stirling is struggling to sell his premium glasshouse-grown strawberries and has appealed to retailers to consider the sacrifices being made by pickers who are leaving families at home during the coronavirus crisis in order to do essential work on farms.

“We haven’t been able to move the fruit for the last couple of days because retailers have imported too many strawberries,” he said.

“Some of them panicked when they saw their shelves stripped bare by consumers, and now there’s just too much fruit in the system.”

Mr Stirling praised his team of 40 local and Bulgarian workers for turning up to help feed the nation, but said they were frustrated and angry at seeing their efforts go to waste.

“When staff go to supermarkets and see trays of Spanish fruit they feel desperate,” he said.

“We’re following all the distancing regulations and each picker has a bay to themselves, and in the factory the workers are two metres apart,” added Mr Stirling.

“There are hand gels everywhere and we take each worker’s temperature and record it every day so everyone can be reassured no one is ill.”

He added: “I’ve seen our fruit in Marks & Spencer in Dundee, but in Tesco the shelves have Spanish berries.”

The Seahills strawberries fill gaps in the market at both the beginning and end of the season, with harvesting in the heated glasshouses from early March to June, then from autumn to early December.

Tesco has been approached for comment.

Meanwhile NFU Scotland horticulture committee chairman James Porter said the industry is awaiting confirmation from the government that furloughed workers will be able to do other jobs this summer, and they are also looking at the possibility of a national insurance holiday for the fruit and vegetable industry.

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