The Government’s ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign has been branded a success by officials, despite some criticism from growers in recent weeks.
Launched in April by Defra, the campaign hoped to attract British workers to help harvest crops amid the Covid-19 pandemic and address rising concerns about severe migrant labour shortages.
But growers have warned they are still struggling to attract and retain workers, with a new report by Andersons revealing Covid-19 has seen a spike in labour costs up to 15 per cent.
Speaking to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on June 30, Mr Eustice claimed the initiative had been a ‘great success’ with large companies, such as G’s, reporting one third of pickers were British during the peak month of June.
He said: “The feedback from industry was the campaign had been a success, since they had recruited a third of their labour and did not need a further boost of the campaign”.
David Kennedy, Defra director general food and farming, added: “Some companies asked to be delisted from the website, stating they had met all of their recruitment labour needs for the season, a sure sign of success.”
Jack Ward, chief executive officer of the British Growers Association, agreed the campaign had been a success since it had ‘attracted a lot of attention and brought people into the industry’ as part of a wider multi-strand approach.
But he warned warned industry is ’not out of the woods yet’.
He said: "There could be a drop off in numbers as the season progresses, with workers drifting back to their original types of employment as restrictions are lifted."
While acknowledging average productivity among the British workforce was lower than those ‘with experience’, and the need to maintain some migrant labour, Mr Eustice said British workers can be part of the mix.
Mr Kennedy also called for a balance of domestic and foreign workers within the sector.
He said: “Scaling up the seasonal workers’ pilot scheme next year will be important, but we must think about what the right balance is of domestic and foreign workers. The industry needs both.”