The UK watercress season got underway this week without the usual fanfare of the Alresford Watercress Festival to herald its start having become another casualty of the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite this, and the more serious concerns over a lack of labour, The Watercress Company has kicked off the season as planned, and so far, prospects are looking good.
Split between Hampshire and Dorset, The Watercress Company owns over 50 acres of watercress beds, the company anticipates harvesting over 600 tonnes of the super green between now and late October supplying over 4,000 stores around the country and its new online business selling traditional bunches of watercress in cones made from sustainable paper packaging.
Like many growers, The Watercress Company has had to overcome the lack of seasonal labour. Longstanding seasonal employees from overseas, many of whom have worked with The Watercress Company for 10 years or more, have been unable to come due to movement restrictions caused by COVID 19. As a result, the ‘class of 2020’ who have stepped into the breach have a range of backgrounds from sport instructor, designer, event electrician, student, landscape gardener, mechanic, builder, podiatrist to sailor!
Tom Amery, MD of The Watercress Company explains: “We realised quite early on in the lockdown that we were going to have issues with the harvest of watercress and our other salad crops if we didn’t quickly source the 25 staff members needed from other backgrounds. We were lucky as in both Hampshire and Dorset local people who had been furloughed or who were self-employed applied to work and underwent a rigorous period of training in the build up to harvest starting.
“We had a 10% drop out in the first couple of weeks but after that everyone else settled in and now appear to be loving it. For most it’s a complete change from their normal lives, while we haven’t had to train a fresh group of recruits for years, but I think we are learning a lot from each other.”