Twelve months after £1 million of daffodils withered and wasted in fields across Angus, the fate of this year’s harvest is hanging in the balance.
The Covid crisis brought picking to a standstill across Grampian Growers farms last March, and while the Scottish Government has already given the green light to socially-distanced work in fields this year, the worry is that the pickers needed on the co-operative’s 11 farms will be in short supply.
Picking is poised to start within days, but most labour comes from overseas and because flowers are not classed as essential, growers will not have the same derogation as fruit producers who can fly in workers from Eastern Europe to quarantine on farms.
It means that Angus growers will be more reliant than ever on workers who are already in the country and currently picking early daffodils in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. They usually migrate north when the season ends in the south but this year English farms are 25% short of their usual picking contingent so they are expected to hold on to staff for longer in the season than usual.
Grampian Growers managing director Mark Clark said the industry had fought “really hard” to be part of the same quarantine scheme as soft fruit growers.
He said: “The issue is that the sector is still classed as non-essential, so labour that’s not already in the UK and involved in flower picking will be very difficult to bring in direct to Scottish flower farms.
“In Cornwall a big grower might usually have 700 pickers, but this year they’re down to around 450 , and they’ll probably need them for a greater number of weeks to complete season before some migrate north.”
Mr Clark insisted there were plenty of opportunities for local people to get involved in picking daffodils.
“Our pickers used to be 100% people from local towns and villages but now it’s only around 5%. However we will take anyone who is prepared to learn,” he said.
“Professional pickers work really hard, and it’s skilled work, but they can earn £120-£130 a day.”
The timing of Easter influences the market for Scottish daffodils, and this year the date falls slightly early for the main Angus crop. However Mr Clark says he expects strong demand to continue well after April 4.
He added: “The potential for the crop is really good this year – if we get enough pickers.
“March 15 is the earliest we expect to be in full production which is three weeks later than last year’s exceptionally early season. Given the labour situation we are in no rush to start.”