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Fruit picking is a great way to make money in the summer – and with the coronavirus pandemic, pickers are in higher demand than ever before.
The summer’s almost here and what better way to enjoy the great British weather than by earning some cash picking fruit? Fruit picking in the UK takes place in the summer months, usually from June to September when strawberries, apples and hops are harvested. Depending on the summer month, you will be picking a certain fruit. For example, strawberries and gooseberries are often picked from early June to mid July, plums and apples are picked in late August and pears are picked in September.
The concern about fruit and vegetable supply in the UK isn’t the problem. Despite the panic-buying seen at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, food supplies are still plentiful. In reality, the problem comes down to the workforce.
Most fruit pickers in the UK are migrant workers. However, with international travel severely restricted due to the coronavirus, farmers are crying out to the British population to join their fruit-picking army in time for the summer.
Thousands of migrant workers who would normally visit the UK for the fruit-picking season won’t be able to make the journey this year. So, it’s up to those already living in the UK to help farmers (and earn cash, too!).
This is one of the few jobs in the world where it’s as simple as it sounds. You’ll be shown how to determine whether a fruit is ripe enough for picking, and what to do with them once picked. Often, accommodation is provided as part of the job too, so you can spend your summer living in a new location, working outdoors, and getting fit!
There are no skills required and you won’t need previous experience. All you need is to be able to speak English and have a strong willingness to work hard. This is a physically demanding job, so you need to be in good health. It’s a good way to burn those calories and spare tyres built up in self-isolation, too!
Fruit picking is an outdoor job, so wear old casual clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. You may be standing in fields for hours on end so comfortable shoes are a must. You’ll also need a hat and some sun cream so you don’t get burnt.
If hard labour isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other jobs associated with fruit picking. These include checking and weighing the fruit, making jam, packing/labelling and selling the fruit in the farm shop.
If you don’t live near the farm you want to work for, then you may be able to stay in the farmhouse or camp on site in a caravan. Some farmers will provide this accommodation for free to their pickers while others may charge a small fee. It would be best to check before you sign up, otherwise you could end up losing cash by forking out for digs.
You’re usually paid cash in hand so you’ll need to sort out your own tax/National Insurance. You’ll need to register as self-employed – even if it’s just a summer job and you have other PAYE employment during the year.
You may get an hourly or daily rate, but sometimes you’re paid according to how much you pick (e.g. you get a certain amount per kilo or pound). This system is called ‘piecework’ and can be fruitful for hard workers.
Because this is typically seen as casual work, most farmers won’t offer a contract of employment or any perks like holiday or sick pay.
Fruit picking is manual labour and might not be suitable for everyone. So, if you aren’t keen on physical work this won’t be for you. If a bit of hard graft doesn’t scare you it’s a great way to stay fit whilst earning money, being outdoors and soaking up the sunshine. You’ll also make new friends as you get to know your fellow fruit-pickers.
There are fruit farms all over the UK producing a wide range of fruit, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find work somewhere. For example Kelsey Farms in Kent employs over 250 people each summer to pick their fruit. The Feed the Nation drive means even more agricultural jobs are available this year than usual, too.
Check local farms for work first and keep an eye out for vacancies in the local papers. Find a farmers’ market near you and ask about any jobs that are currently being advertised.
Go to Picking Jobs where you can put in a search for fruit picking in Europe and see what’s available. Another useful website is Anywork Anywhere, which has a similar set up and can be used to search for all kinds of other seasonal jobs both here and abroad.
Another good website is Employment4Students, which has loads of summer vacancies such as fruit-picking jobs. When you see a job that interests you, email the employer directly giving a few basic details about yourself and the dates you can do.
You can also try these specific recruitment sites:
Read about other people’s experiences of fruit picking here and take a look at this information about two big fruit growers in the UK to give you an idea of how it all works:
Do you want to pick fruit outside of the summer months? PJ Stirling Fruit Farms have a soft fruit farm in Scotland where the picking season runs all year round, but is particularly busy from April to November. At this farm a shift is normally no more than eight hours for six days a week. The day starts early, at around 6.30am and finishes by 3pm. Wages are in line with EU employment laws. There are mobile homes and dormitories for workers to share at reasonable prices and coach trips on Sundays to take workers to local places of interest.
Edward Vinson Ltd own three sites in Kent. There are 70 hectares of strawberry fields and 20 hectares of raspberry fields. Employees are paid either by the hour or by piecework. The working week is from Saturday to Friday, with overtime shifts available in peak seasons. The basic hourly rate is £6.21, which isn’t much, but the overtime rate is 150%. ‘Piece work’, where pay relates to how much is picked, is also available at £0.621 per unit. Again, accommodation is available (campsites with mobile homes) for a small charge per week. There are also football pitches and volleyball areas to enjoy plus trips to nearby cities.
Fruit picking is an ideal way to earn some money during your gap year while you’re travelling. You’ll probably meet lots of people who are also on their gap year. So, you’ll be able to find much cheaper accommodation as a picker than you would as a tourist. Search for vacancies in Europe, North America and Australasia online with sites like Picking Jobs. (Remember to also apply for relevant working visas before you travel, too!).
However, with the current coronavirus crisis, it’s unlikely farmers will recruit international staff at this time. In addition, working laws very between countries – the UK has stricter laws than some others. This means you have better protection in terms of things like health and safety. Support the UK economy this year – perhaps next year you can take that international work-around-the-world trip you had planned!
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