While Halloween might be a nightmare for some, it’s a massive boost at the end of a busy season for Jono Smales and one where he relies on quality labour.
In the last 20 years PD Smales & Son’s pumpkin sales have tripled in size and the farm now supplies large private clients with more than 200,000 pumpkins during the peak season.
Despite this massive turnover of the traditional Halloween vegetable, it’s only a seasonal side-line for this dairy farm, that produces its own cheese and grows a selection of organic vegetables.
But the pumpkins offer a welcome boom towards the end of October, explains Jono – whose largest client orders 20,000!
“Halloween isn’t a massive money spinner for farmers. Pumpkins are so bulky that packaging and haulage costs are very high but it’s a good cash crop in October when everything else is a bit quiet. When all the other crops are finished it extends the season by another month.”
Extending the season also means extending the support from seasonal workers to help with picking and packing the thousands of orders.
“It has got harder over the years to recruit people especially towards the end of the season. A lot of people when they finish soft fruit tend to go home rather than ask for a transfer.
“I have to be organised in August at the latest for getting seasonal labour in October whereas before I could get workers down here with a week’s notice. Those days have gone.”
Jono is now looking at adding incentives to attract workers to stay and said the farm has to work harder to keep people coming back.
“The emphasis is very much on keeping the worker happy and doing as much as possible to get them to come back next year.
“For 2020, I have an initiative that if they stay in October they get free accommodation for the month, which is a saving of £200. At the end of the season I take them all out for a meal too,” added Jono.
Smales require labour support throughout the year – and especially around the peak season of August and September. During October, as well as the bulk pumpkin orders, the farm is also commissioned to set up local pumpkin patches on other people’s land and often supplies small quantity orders to anyone who turns up at Smales’ farm.
“I had one person who turned up to ask for 20 pumpkins for his daughter’s party – he wanted to give them away to the children instead of party bags,” said Jono.
It’s a hectic time, and one that HOPS has been supporting for more than 20 years. As Smales’ business has grown it has taken advice and support from HOPS on issues from accommodation to Brexit. It’s a relationship that Jono describes as personal.
“You can pick up the phone and have a chat with someone at HOPS and they normally have an answer for you as they’ve all worked there a long time. They know pretty much everything about recruitment and the relevant legislation.
“They know what we’re looking for and they always send me what I ask for.
“I like the HOPS’ online portal too because I have all of the information on the workers to hand 24 hours a day.
“It’s a relationship that just works.”