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Farmers ‘managing’ but could lose new staff as businesses reopen

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THE farming industry is ‘managing’ despite the loss of foreign labour during the pandemic, but concerns are growing about possible staff shortages when other sectors reopen, an industry spokesman has said.

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Peter Le Maistre, president of the Jersey Farmers’ Union, said that the influx of staff freed up from the ailing hospitality sector and elsewhere had allowed the Island’s growers to continue to operate.

He added, however, that there remained a shortage of ‘skilled staff’ within the industry, largely due to the loss of traditional seasonal workers from countries such as Poland and Romania.

‘The situation with staff is that we are managing. A lot of growers have had staff come in from other sectors, like hospitality, and I think that is about 15% of our workforce right now,’ Mr Le Maistre said.

‘That has helped. We are glad that those people have decided to come and help us, when you consider there are some who would prefer to take the money and do nothing.

‘We are still short of skilled staff, such as tractor drivers and herdsmen, but we are all working longer hours and we are coping.’

With the Island’s businesses gradually restarting their operations as lockdown measures are eased, Mr Le Maistre said staff shortages were becoming a concern, with dozens of workers due to return to their ‘normal’ jobs.

‘What you are seeing at the moment is that they are starting to reopen the outside tables of pubs and restaurants,’ he said.

‘I think at the moment it is not having too much of an impact on us, but there are concerns among some of the growers that they may lose staff as the restrictions are further lifted.’

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He added that while foreign workers could also be allowed to return to the Island soon, he would not like this to happen before such a move was considered safe.

‘When it comes to the Polish community, it is expected that their country is going to ease its lockdown in the next few weeks and that might make staff more available,’ Mr Le Maistre said.

‘But what I would say at this time is that we should not be looking to bring in staff from elsewhere until it’s completely clear that things are returning to normal. That has to come first.’

Meanwhile, Tim Crowley, managing director of La Mare Wine Estate, said that he felt there would be enough workers available in Jersey for his business’s harvest season in the autumn.

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‘Our harvest is in September and October. We have moved to more automation for picking in recent years, with our orchards you use machines to pick the apples off the ground,’ he said.

‘But with grape-picking, if you want high quality they have to be hand-picked. But we shouldn’t have a problem finding staff for this season because, unlike usual, Jersey does not have full employment right now.

‘It is kind of the reverse situation to normal for Jersey. It is usually difficult to find staff here.’

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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