Britain needs a new army of food pickers, says Prince Charles

Prince Charles has called for a Second World War-style army of workers to prevent Britain’s crops going to waste because of a lack of people willing to pick them.

The Prince – himself a keen gardener and a big supporter of rural communities – says the coronavirus crisis has taught us all that food is “precious and valued” and that it should not “be taken for granted”.

He said: “If we are to harvest British fruit and vegetables this year, we need an army of people to help.”

The UK’s agricultural sector is concerned that tonnes of the country’s fruit and vegetable crops could be left rotting in the fields unless more people come forward to find work.

Migrant labour is hugely restricted this year because of the travel restrictions imposed around the world to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Prince of Wales released a video message, filmed from the gardens of his home at Birkhall on the Balmoral estate in Scotland, where he is staying with Camilla during the lockdown.

He said: “This is why that great movement of the Second World War - the Land Army - is being rediscovered in the newly-created ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign.”

“It will be hard graft but is hugely important if we are to avoid the growing crops going to waste.”

The Pick for Britain campaign is support by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs and the National Farmers Union.

It has been set up to bring workers and employers together to make sure there are enough people to harvest this year’s crop of fruit and vegetables.

The jobs are being advertised as the UK’s unemployment rate rose dramatically because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Campaigners want help to pick fruit and vegetables. Credit: PA

The Office for National Statistics announced today that the number of people claiming unemployment benefit soared to 2.1 million in April.

There was a rise in claimants of 856,000 in the first full month of the lockdown.

But while the number of vacancies in the economy shrank significantly - falling from 755,000 in March to 351,000 in April – the country’s farmers say they are worried there are not enough people to fill the vacancies they currently have.

The National Farmers’ Union says “food does not happen by magic”.

Farmers hope that students, furloughed workers and others seeking work will consider picking crops this summer.

Many might be put off by the long hours and the physical nature of the work but Prince Charles has told those looking for work that they would be helping the national fight against coronavirus.

The Prince said: "I do not doubt that the work will be unglamorous and, at times, challenging.

"But it is of the utmost importance and, at the height of this global pandemic, you will be making a vital contribution to the national effort."