No sign of promised workers on strawberry fields so far

Strawberries covered in mold
Strawberries covered in mold Source: Laari Farm (Laari Talu)

Strawberry farmers have said they have seen no sign of promised workers to help with the berry harvest despite making hundreds of calls and a government promise. On Monday, the government reversed its decision to allow foreign workers into Estonia.

Kadri Nebokat, owner of Laari Farm, said she has made hundreds of calls to find strawberry pickers, adding that the promised unemployed people have not arrived at her fields as the government had promised.

On Monday, the coalition parties agreed to allow migrant workers to work in Estonia. In addition to that, they decided on a strict salary and health requirements. 

Nebokat told ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" this decision was made too late for the farmers, as most of the strawberries are rotten and there is nothing to do with them. 

"The farmers are not very pleased with the decision; the strawberry picking period is over. Now it is the last chance to buy berries for jam as the quality is very poor and we can only sell berries which are good quality. There are not that many berries of good quality left," said Nebokat. 

Nebokat's said 80 percent of the unharvested strawberries are now rotten. She also thinks next year's harvest will not be any better than this year as her plants have problems with mould. 

Nebokat said: "The amount of mould on the berries is very high and we cannot stop the mould growth as it is a natural occurrence. We shall see how many of the strawberries are good quality and if the berry lives through the summer period." 

Nebokat believes it is very complicated to find employees in Estonia. She has personally called approximately 300 people but only 10 people have come to work in the field.

There are many job advertisements on different portals but the employees - who were often registered unemployed - who promised to work for her, have not arrived. She said if a few employees came to work on the farm, they only did so for a few days. 

Nebokat said migrant workers are usually better employees as they have more tolerance for the work and the routine it offers. 

"Whoever is picking the berries, the person needs consistency and routine. Unfortunately, unemployed people lack both. They must be able to work not only on the first day but on all the days as they are asked. People who work in their free time, or young people who do sports and have many hobbies, are used to being conscientious," she added. 

Roomet Sõrmus, the head of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) confirmed "Ringvaade" they have been supportive of government's decision to open the borders for several months, but the farmers have put into a complicated situation now. 

Sõrmus said: "The government's decision is positive at the end of the day because it gives more confidence to the farmers as there have been tragedies in dairy and agricultural sectors not that many years ago." 

Farmers are also unhappy work permits will only be valid for six months rather than the previous nine, as training pickers and agricultural staff takes a long time.


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein, Helen Wright

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