It’s a little-known fact, but the United Kingdom provides the world with about 90% of its cut daffodils.
And with a retail value of £71.5million in 2020, it’s no surprise that farming the yellow flower is big business for both the field owners who dedicate land to its growth and to the people who travel hundreds of miles to take up seasonal work.
An experienced worker can expect to earn between £200 to £300 per day picking daffodils, and at the height of the season – which lasts February through to May – vast swathes of the countryside turns yellow with the growing effort.
Kath Flannery, who travels from Angus to Aberdeenshire every day for work, regularly witnesses the fields getting packed with seasonal workers, and this spring took the opportunity to learn more about the travelling workforce.
Here, she tells her story of what she discovered and the people she met – from a couple who go without seeing their children for months on end to earn cash to a former farmer who still lends his hand on the fields.
Kath, who has previously worked farms in her youth, explained: “Something that has always interested me working on farms as I have in my younger years – and when my back could take it – is the mixture of people from different cultures and backgrounds that all work together.
“We all probably have an older member in our family who remembers their childhood growing up ‘picking daffs’, ‘working the berries’ and ‘lifting tatties’ with other local families, but gradually there has been a change in the workforce with many seasonal workers coming from the EU.
“The last two years have also seen a change in how farms can operate in terms of employing workers, with Brexit and then the Covid-19 pandemic.
“And last year farms saw fields of daffodils go to waste as Covid brought picking to a standstill.”
And while picking went ahead this year, much of the workforce was sourced from the UK alone – people who followed the blooms from Cornwall to Wales in work and family bubbles.
In Montrose, Kath met a group that had travelled together from Lincolnshire.
Doina and her husband, Ion, have lived there for nine years but are originally from Romania.
“Ion spoke of the poor wages in Romania explaining how the cost of living is much higher than any wage he can earn there,” Kath said.
“Here, he and his wife can work hard and earn good money to support their family.
“They spoke fondly of their two children who they only see for three months of the year over winter when they can go home, the rest of the year is spent living and working on farms here.”
She also met Zeinep and her husband, Asfad, from Bulgaria who work year-round picking fruit, vegetables and flowers across the UK.
“Just up the road at Dykelands Farm, near Laurencekirk, I met Ken who introduced himself as the oldest picker on the field,” Kath added.
The 75-year-old from Cornwall, who once owned a dairy farm, sold up when milk became unviable for him.
“He was working as hard as the 25-year-old in the next drill and continues to work year-round.
“He usually sticks to transportation of produce now, driving tractors on farms in England but still likes to do a season on the daffs. He puts his fitness down to hard work and his tug of war training which he enjoyed for 14 years.”
Elsewhere, at Dykelands, she chatted over tea in the sunshine to workers Nigel and Simon who explained they enjoyed the freedom of their travelling lifestyle.
Simon (left) and Nigel from Lincolnshire. They would previously travel across Europe for work but are now less certain about what will happen in the future. And Jason and Kristina who, when the world didn’t have Covid to contend with, worked at music festivals during the summer.
Kath also discovered that the next generation of daffodil pickers were out in force this season.
At Slains Park Farm, near Kinneff, she met Ava and Niamh, both 17, who were working their first season.
“All their learning is online at the moment,” Kath said.
“So being outside and working in the fresh air was therapeutic – as well as a chance to earn some money.”
Before she wrapped up her experience on the daffodil fields, Kath contacted Mark Clark, the managing director of Grampian Growers – a cooperative that works with some of the farms she visited.
He said that, although the workforce was down by 50% this season, the “creme del la creme” showed up to get the job done.
“Unlike fruit, flowers are not considered essential produce so they didn’t have the usual workforce coming over from Europe,” he added.
“The season went better than expected though, just under five million bunches (of 10) were picked in the six-week season.”