S&A Produce in switch to table-top production to cut worker requirements

Herefordshire-based soft fruit grower S&A Produce has launched plans to switch to table-top production in a bid to halve the number of season workers and polytunnels it requires.

The firm, which produces some 10,000 tonnes of strawberries a season, aims to submit planning applications to its local council at the end of September to change the production at both its Marden and Brierly sites.

S&A representative Rebecca Edmonds commented: "With the SAWS scheme being scaled down, it's going to be difficult for us and our competitors to get any labour.

"At our peak we need about 3,000 workers - but we will need about half of this amount if we move to table tops.

"It is also more attractive in terms of labour conditions because picking from table tops is a lot easier than picking from the ground," she added.

"It will be easier for staff to achieve better bonuses - and will also improve our ability to manage labour fluctuations throughout the summer."

She explained that the new plans will also pose less of a blight on the landscape: "At the moment we have 300ha of polytunnels in Herefordshire.

"(Under the new plans) we will only require approximately 170ha of polytunnels."

Before the company applies for planning permissions, S&A is seeking the local community's opinion by holding an exhibition that will show people what the accommodation and landscape will look like.

The firm is also holding an open day on 31 August to which local councillors, members of the NFU and the local Chamber of Commerce can come and see the site and discuss the plans.

Edmonds said: "We have had planning applications that have gone in and been successful. We are very optimistic."

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