FRUIT farmers in North Yorkshire say they are ‘giving up’ after 20 years due to a lack of pickers and small margins.

Richard and Ronda Morritt have been unable to harvest their raspberries at their farm in Sand Hutton near York this year, saying the shortage of labour has made it unviable.

Highlighting their plight on social media, the couple wrote: “We are sad because we will lose income and sad that we have a crop of beautiful fruit that will just rot on the canes.”

The National Farmers’ Union has been highlighting reports of unpicked fruit and vegetables across the country in recent months due to the lack of labour. The shortage has been devastating for many farmers whose seasonal agricultural workers usually come from the EU, particularly Eastern Europe.

Factors including Covid, Brexit and the imminent end of the furlough scheme have meant there are not enough workers to meet demand.

The Morritts also grow asparagus at Low Moor Farm, among other ventures, which is traditionally used by the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Ronda said: “We normally work with foreign labour but last year we didn’t get any because of Covid. We put ads out locally which worked terrifically last year because a lot of people were furloughed. We got enough pickers for the asparagus but we haven’t got enough for the raspberries.”

She added: “We are going to pull out all the raspberry plants. After 20 years of being raspberry farmers we are going to give up. There’s so little margin in it. We are lucky to get between 10 and 30 pence profit a punnet.”

They used their Sand Hutton Asparagus Facebook page to invite people to go and pick raspberries for free to save it going to waste. “Come as often as you want and bring your friends - there’s loads! We envisage around 3/4 weeks picking.”

The post went viral and hundreds of vehicles descended yesterday morning, leading to a new plea for people to stay away for the time being, as most of the fruit had gone.

Ronda said about 300 cars turned up between 9am and 11am. “We are now having to work full time to send people away,” she said.

A new Facebook message read: “We have literally spent all morning trying to answer private messages and phone calls from folk with ideas/offers of a few hours help/enquiries. It’s a field-scale professional production if we had decided to pick, and not just a few hours here and there. We need to get on with our busy day.”

Well-wishers suggested a pick-your-own venture - however, this was deemed unviable due to the need for ‘a till, a stall, scales, parking, toilets, signage and someone to be there all day’.I don’t want to throw that investment at a crop that might not give us the return sadly’.Others urged them to provide an honesty box for donations.