An MP has called for the creation of a new Land Army to help farmers facing labour shortages and to ensure British produce continues to reach the shops, writes Rod Minchin.

Ian Liddell-Grainger says some of the thousands of people who are temporarily off work because of coronavirus could harvest vegetables and fruit instead.

And he has called for the creation of a simplified, web-based scheme to match agricultural employers with potential staff.

During the Second World War, 80,000 women joined the Land Army to help cover labour shortages in agriculture.

French government officials have launched an appeal for temporary farm workers to come forward after farming unions warned producers would be short of 200,000 staff this spring because of a ban on bringing in foreign labour.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said the creation of a similar workforce this side of the Channel would help farmers head off the threat of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going unpicked over the next few months.

"We need a simple, accessible scheme which could be put in place with the minimum of delay - nothing more than a website where farmers can post their requirements with their contact details," he said.

"The NFU president has been warning of the problems farmers are facing because of a foreign labour shortage, but I would have thought that here, surely, is a simple solution which the NFU itself could adopt.

"But it has to be a no-frills operation. We cannot load farmers up with more onerous paperwork because they have more than enough on their plates at the moment.

"Neither do we need this to involve any more work for Government departments which are currently so overstretched.

"It would be a matter of farmers agreeing to pay their temporary workers directly either in cash or by bank transfer without any tax and national insurance deductions.

"These are desperate times and the Government is tearing up the rules on a daily basis to get us through them, so a few more torn ones aren't going to make a heap of difference.

"The difference this scheme could make, however, is that between the nation continuing to be fed and some serious and prolonged food shortages.

"I am certain there will be thousands of people dreading the tedium of having to stay at home for weeks and who would welcome the chance of a temporary job in the fresh air, particularly since social distancing is generally far easier to achieve when people are working outdoors."