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How do I find a fruit or veg picking job and what can I realistically earn?

I recently heard that broccoli pickers are being paid £30 an hour due to a shortage of workers.

I’m currently out of work and quite like the idea of doing an ‘outdoor’ job which could help improve my fitness, while also earning some money before Christmas.

Is there really a shortage of workers, how do I find a job near me, what is a realistic hourly salary on offer and while I’m no slouch, do I need to be in top physical condition to apply?

Some reports say that fruit and veg pickers can earn as much as £30 an hour, but the industry says this is not yet a standard wage

Angelique Ruzicka from This is Money says: Vegetable producer THClements & Son Ltd recently advertised for field workers on their Facebook page stating that workers have the potential to ‘earn up to £30’. 

Some misread this to mean that people would start with £30 an hour.

So, while there’s no guarantee that farmer workers with no experience will earn such an amount, these wages were nevertheless unheard of just a few years or even months ago according to experts.

In a post-Covid-19 world expectations among workers – particularly British workers – is that there needs to be better pay, an element of flexibility, and more permanent work on offer.

In response to this, THClements’ adverts included the potential for all-year-round work and catered to those who needed flexibility. 

For example, it advertised a line operative vacancy specifically aimed at parents who can work a school hour shift pattern. 

It’s not only parents that they’re looking to entice – but the advert also said this is a ‘flexible shift to suit those with children or other commitments’. 

While this is only one example the general consensus is that the industry is definitely changing in that it’s awarding better pay and more flexibility. 

There’s no doubt we’ll see more of that next year as the demand for skilled labourers increases. 

Skills shortfall to increase in 2022 

Nick Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits says berry pickers can earn between £9 and £11 an hour

Nick Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits says berry pickers can earn between £9 and £11 an hour

Nick Marston, chairman of the British Summer Fruits, says: We are aware that many have increased wages due to shortages across the agricultural industry. 

By August and September, the overall staff shortage was around 10 to 15 per cent on most farms and was worsening as we went into Autumn – with many seasonal workers from the EU or on the pilot Visa scheme starting to go home.

We expect this shortfall to increase dramatically in 2022 as the numbers of returnees from the EU coming to work on our farms continues to fall.

Pay varies depending on the specific job role, but hourly pay is underpinned by the national living wage or the national minimum wage – and many jobs have a productivity bonus too.

This means typical hourly pay for berry picking ranges from £9 to £11 per hour and can be higher with earnings of up to £14 per hour being achievable for some staff. 

The typical hourly pay can be higher for experienced staff, especially as experienced pickers tend to be faster than first timers so they can expect to earn more in terms of productivity bonuses.

You do need to be physically active to be a fruit picker, but it’s easier than it used to be. 

Strawberries, for example, are now grown on tabletops, so there is no need to bend down which makes it a lot easier and quicker for pickers.

Room for negotiation

Angelique Ruzicka of This is Money adds: There are other benefits that famers offer that could push wages up to equal a £30 an hour rate if you add them all up. 

These can include things like training and progression, company pension, cycle to work scheme, bonuses, and free accommodation.

There’s no doubt that there’s room for negotiation as the farming industry grapples with retention post Brexit. 

According to analysis by Totaljobs, sectors that saw the highest proportion of people leaving include the military (47 per cent), advertising (42 per cent), public sector, farming and agriculture and charity (41 per cent).

Ross Goatham managing director of AC Goatham & Son says there are lots of other roles available in the farming industry besides fruit and veg picking

Ross Goatham managing director of AC Goatham & Son says there are lots of other roles available in the farming industry besides fruit and veg picking

While £30 an hour wages are not a given there are certainly other roles that you can move into if you have the skills.

Ross Goatham managing director of AC Goatham & Son, the UK’s largest apple and pear grower says: ‘Across the main production part of the business, the average annual salary is £30,118.40. 

‘Harvest workers due to the temporary nature can earn an average of £10.50 an hour. 

‘We have many career opportunities from IT based roles, warehousing, quality/technical roles, traditional office admin, HGV drivers, tractor operatives, commercial sales, etc.

‘Many of our current managers and directors joined us 10-15 or in some cases up to 20 years ago, as junior or seasonal workers and have progressed right up to senior managers or board directors. 

‘So, there are fantastic career opportunities in our sector.’