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Lack of seasonal workers leaves fruit unpicked

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The fruit and vegetable-growing sector is facing a shortage of at least 50,000, but as many as 80,000 seasonal workers, with scarcely anyone to be found to pick crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and apples, according to a report in daily Világgazdaság today.

Ferenc Ledó, president of the FruitVeb Hungarian Vegetable and Fruit Product Council, noted that seasonal work in fruit and vegetable growing and harvesting is available between the months of May and October, but that each harvest occurs in very concentrated periods, as little as two days in the case of peaches or apples, according to the report. Today, however, it has become almost impossible to gather a sufficient workforce within such a short time frame, Ledó added.

Ledó stressed that not everyone is suited to fruit-picking work, which – though requiring no special training – nevertheless needs care and the right attitude to ensure that the fruit is not spoiled.

“If apples are picked properly and precisely, they can fetch as much as HUF 100 per kilo, but if tossed or squeezed carelessly then they can only be sold for apple juice, often bringing only HUF 15/kilo on the market,” Ledó was quoted as saying.

Previously, student workers could be employed to fill the gaps, and even this summer some 20% more students have worked in the fields than last year. However, according to Ledó, at least 50% more students would be needed in order to fill every available place, according to the report. The problem would be resolved, he added, if higher wages could be offered seasonal workers, or if labor-intensive sectors could be better mechanized. The investments required for new technology are beyond most producers, however.

Another solution could be to employ seasonal workers from abroad, notes Világgazdaság. In Spain, for example, 2–300,000 African seasonal workers work every summer, while Poland employs Ukrainian workers to pick fruit. However, the paper notes, this appears a politically very sensitive solution due to the government’s stridently anti-immigration rhetoric.

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