Wimbledon strawberry farm owner says Brexit is a ‘concern’ but remains confident for another good year

For two weeks in July, one English farm goes into overdrive to pick, transport, and deliver 28 tonnes of strawberries to the famous All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – otherwise known as Wimbledon.

Over the course of the tournament, Marion Regan MBE and her 50-strong team will ship more strawberries to the tennis-mad crowd at the Championship than the weight of two double-decker buses – as they have done for more than 25 years.

But the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union may hit the agricultural industry hardest, as the future of seasonal workers remains uncertain.

To be able to supply their biggest order of the year, Hugh Lowe Farm relies on a team of 35-50 seasonal workers who start their day at the crack of dawn.

“We have a fantastic team of people who are dedicated to picking the Wimbledon strawberries during the fortnight,” Mrs Regan said.

“The vast majority come from EU countries – predominantly Romania and Bulgaria and they are terrific, excellent pickers.”

The strawberry season requires hundreds of workers over the summer, but the farm received fewer applications this year which Mrs Regan took as a sign of European workers being unsure.

“Obviously Brexit is a concern,” she said.

“But I’m confident that the government appreciates the importance of seasonal work for British horticulture and for the food industry.

“The case is being made very strongly that all seasonal fruit and vegetable growers need to welcome migrants.”

The reality is that Wimbledon’s strawberry pickers face a punch-in time of five o’clock each morning, working through the summer months, with little chance to watch The Championship itself.

It’s an opportunity which does not appeal to the majority of people in the UK.

“Occasionally we have people who live locally who are interested in doing it but mostly it’s quite difficult to find people who are willing to pick fruit starting so early in the morning for just a temporary period,” she said.

“We do depend on having a fantastic source of great people from overseas.”

As Wimbledon’s only strawberry supplier, the farm’s team works tirelessly over the duration of The Championships to pick the berries in Maidstone and deliver them to SW19 within 24 hours – sometimes even on the same day.

A huge amount of pressure rests on Mrs Regan’s shoulders to ensure that the perfect complement to the tennis lives up to the expectations of the 490,000 people that come to the hallowed courts each year.

“It is the highlight of our season. The strawberries have got to be great quality and I would hate to disappoint anybody. I feel very responsible,” Mrs Regan said.

“We have quite a few customers but the Wimbledon fortnight, even though it’s only two weeks out of a long season, is probably the most nerve-wracking.”

But the family farm has been growing berries since 1893 and Mrs Regan confirmed that this year’s crop will be a winner.

She said: “It is going to be a good year. The Wimbledon fortnight falls at the natural peak of the traditional season and so far the quality is looking really great.”

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