The government has called for British citizens to help pick fruit and vegetables to make up for a shortage in farm seasonal workers caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Farmers have warned that travel restrictions in place to combat coronavirus mean they will struggle to recruit the 80,000 workers needed for this season's harvest, even as supermarkets continue to face shortages.
Some 99 per cent of the UK's seasonal workers are recruited from the EU, most from Eastern European countries. There are also fears that illness could hit British farm workers, putting further strain on the workforce.
George Eustice, the secretary of state for the environment said on Tuesday: "We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months."
He added: "There are already brilliant recruitment efforts underway by industry and I would encourage as many people as possible to sign up."
Martin Lines, an arable farmer in Cambridgeshire, said some farmers were facing catastrophe in the coming weeks. "We need the public to come out and help to harvest and process and keep the food on shelves and not rotting in our fields."
The National Farmers' Union, already facing concerns over migration restrictions post-Brexit, has said resolving the problem of seasonal workers is a matter of "urgency". Farmers have already reported worker shortages of 11 per cent so far this year.
They have suggested Brits who find themselves out of work because of the pandemic, such as those working in the hospitality industry, could instead find jobs on farms and have called on university students to help out "in the national interest".
But concerns have been raised about the challenge of training a huge influx of new workers in food safety and processing standards.
Mr Eustice yesterday said the government was also looking at other ways to support farmers, after earlier announcing a £6m fund for farmers already struggling after severe flooding in February.
He added the British farmers were doing "a fantastic job of feeding the nation during this immensely challenging time."