Published: 06:00, 22 October 2020
An expansion of the UK’s biggest fruit-growing firm in Canterbury is set to provide the biggest local jobs boost in recent times, the company says.
FW Mansfield & Son, which has bases spread across the county, has snapped up a further 275 acres of farmland on the south side of the city in Nackington.
The multi-million pound firm plans to turn the fields into a top fruit enterprise and, as a result, needs to add dozens of extra pickers to its workforce.
It says the move will create 80 new jobs, with some employees housed in 20 new six-berth caravans on a neighbouring site.
And while Mansfields has historically relied on Eastern European labourers, it expects the roles to be taken by locals left unemployed by the impact of Covid-19.
It is hoping to attract a huge number of applications in what it is describing as the district’s biggest employment boost in recent times.
The new employees will be based at Middle Pett Farm, an existing Mansfields branch outside Bridge.
They are then set to work picking fruit on the neighbouring fields at Nackington Farm, which the business has just acquired on a 20-year lease.
To house the workers, 20 extra caravans, which can accommodate up to six people, are proposed to be pitched up.
Managing director Paul Mansfield, who oversees the firm’s operation of 1.7 million trees across 1,480 acres of Kent countryside, has submitted the additional caravan plans to Canterbury City Council.
Documents compiled by planning agents Finn’s state: “While FW Mansfield & Son actively try to recruit to employ local labour, the local populace has been unwilling in the past to take the jobs on offer.
“This is experienced throughout the agricultural economy but given the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent job losses, particularly in the hospitality sector, it is possible that more of the farm workforce will be recruited in the UK.
“In the 2020 season, more than 100 local people have joined the farm workforce, some of whom have taken accommodation from the farm.
“It is envisaged that the addition of the 275 acres of land to that currently farmed by the applicant will create the equivalent of 80 full-time jobs within the district.
“Both the applicant and his agent cannot think of any other local business which has created this number of jobs in recent times in the district.”
They say the jobs boost will also benefit the local economy, with minibus services taking new employees housed at the caravans into the city for shopping.
Social distancing measures mean the caravans will have a smaller capacity. This has therefore sparked a “greater reliance on pickers being able to walk to their place of work”, further highlighting the desire for local workers.
Over at the main Mansfields base at Nickle Farm, off the A28 in Chartham, permission has this month been secured to build a new controlled-atmosphere fruit store.
More than £15 million has been pumped into facilities over the past decade. A further £4 million of spending is anticipated over the next two years on the company’s farms.
Across Kent, the business currently employs 300 full-time staff - a total which increases to more than 1,100 when temporary employees are on the roster during summer months.