British workers have been urged to fill the gap of seasonal foreign workers by picking fruit and vegetables this summer, writes Rod Minchin.

George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said it was "critically important" there was a supply of seasonal workers for the British agricultural industry.

According to the British Growers Association, there was a need for around 70,000 seasonal staff a year.

They said that due to the new post-Brexit points-based immigration system being introduced, there was just 10,000 permits available under a seasonal workers' pilot scheme for non-UK nationals - a shortfall of around 60,000.

The government announcement comes as the travel and movement restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have caused labour shortages as the picking season starts.

While supermarkets have introduced restrictions on certain products, having become overwhelmed by panic buying as shoppers rush to stock up.

"Our farmers are doing a fantastic job of feeding the nation during this immensely challenging time," Mr Eustice said.

"I have been speaking with industry today and in the last week about the critically important issue of seasonal workers, who usually come from Europe to pick fruit and vegetables.

"We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people's plates over the summer months.

"There are already brilliant recruitment efforts under way by industry and I would encourage as many people as possible to sign up.

"We will also be looking at other ways to make sure farmers have support they need ahead of the busy harvest months, while also keeping workers safe and protected."

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.