As farmers gear up for harvesting season, fears have emerged they may not be able to recruit enough foreign labour because of national efforts to curb the spread of the deadly disease. In France, some 200,000 workers are needed in the next three months to pick strawberries and other seasonal crops. The FNSEA, the national union of farmers, said around 800,000 workers are brought in from overseas, mainly central and eastern Europe, Tunisia and Morocco, for the entire harvest season.
Its chief Christine Lambert said: “Due to the closure of the Schengen borders but also to movement restrictions in Europe, the Poles and Romanians who used to come won’t anymore.
“If our call is not heard the production will remain in the fields and the entire fruit and vegetable sector will be damaged.”
Germany also relies on roughly 300,000 seasonal workers a year from eastern Europe, according to DBV, the German farmers’ association.
But this type of employment has been put under threat by swathes of restricted measures brought in as part of the fight against COVID-19.
The European Union’s Schengen free-travel zone has banned visitors from outside the bloc for 30 days, and national governments have even shut their borders from within.
Berlin announced on Wednesday that seasonal workers would be barred until further notice.
Central European states Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria have all imposed land border closures, blocking the routes from eastern Europe.
Paris has called on domestic workers laid off by the coronavirus to help farmers pick fruit and vegetables.
Agriculture minister Didier Guillaume said there was a “shadow army” waiting in the wings to prevent a food crisis.
The UK is facing a similar shortfall as its farmers look to recruit as many as 90,000 people to fill the gap left by overseas workers.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “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.”
At least 10,000 people have already signed up for the Feed the Nation campaign run by three major UK labour providers.