Flaming June, and in a normal year Scottish and UK berries would be flowing into the shops. It’s the month when we start thinking about making Summer Pudding: thin bread soaking up a crush of raspberries, strawberries, redcurrants, and if you’re me, blackcurrants, the purple fruit that to my mind gives a punchy edge to the sweet, fruity mass.

As June goes on, under normal circumstances we’d expect the price of berries to go down, and availability go up, putting us in mind to make jam with the seasonal abundance. But this year, our soft fruit selection is looking, well, thin. Twice recently I’ve I’ve reluctantly paid almost £4 for a medium-sized punnet of Dutch strawberries. No offence to the green-fingered Dutch, prolific horticulturalists year round, but I expect to be awash with Scotland and UK-grown soft fruit by now.

It’s not a no-show, but supply so far is limited, despite the better than average weather we’ve had, and prices are high. Why? Finding pickers has proven trickier than ever. In 2013, Theresa May, acting on her pernicious ‘hostile environment’ rhetoric, scrapped the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme that had attracted pickers from Eastern Europe ever since 1945. Since then, Scotland has struggled to bring in its harvest.

In the last couple of years, the UK Government piloted a new immigration subcategory for seasonal workers in the horticulture sector to alleviate the obvious shortage. But then coronavirus lockdown travel restrictions prevented potential workers from Eastern Europe travelling. By March, Angus fruit farmers expected a shortfall of almost 80% of their usual workforce. NFU Scotland launched a recruitment service to attract more locals on to farms. One big soft fruit concern, Angus Growers, set up its own recruitment website, which now reads: “We are not currently accepting any new applications as our farms are now at full capacity.” So that’s promising.

But if you’re gripped by the seasonal urge to get your hands on the freshest berries, you might want to be proactive and get yourself along to fruit farms. A grower who supplies supermarkets told me that the berries in his farm shop were always sweeter because they were left to ripen longer. Supermarkets impose financial penalties on growers if they deem produce too soft. Their suppliers respond by sending their crop in under-ripe. As the season goes on, fruit farms, such as Craigie’s outside Edinburgh, and Charlton Farm near Montrose, are operating pick-your-own. Craigie’s will be using a ticket system, so you can arrange a precise time slot in advance.

It’s definitely worth getting on the phone to see what fruit farms are doing in your area. What about taking a picking job? I’m only a dilettante when it comes to berry picking, although my mounting appetite for strawberries and cream and peach melba – oh, that raspberry sauce! – is prodding me to get out there.

My mother has fond memories of berry picking as a student, halcyon days spent in fields alongside other young people, but it would be fair to say that berry picking has often had a mean image: low pay, hard work, poor living conditions. But that picture that may be increasingly inaccurate, because growers now have such a struggle to get staff, they must offer inducements. Angus Growers, for instance, pays the National Living Wage. Would you consider taking a temporary job as a picker?

It’s quite an attractive option if you’re a student, or furloughed, in which case although you’re not allowed to carry out any work for your main employer, you can work elsewhere. A temporary stint fruit picking helps build up a contingency fund for furloughed workers who fear redundancy. The introduction of a Citizen’s Basic Income could help people take seasonal work in agriculture.

Unlike Universal Credit, which gradually reduces the more you earn, you could take whatever work was going and still be quids in. This could help to improve our food security. The UK currently imports 84% of the fruit we eat. We’ll never grow lemons here, but Scottish horticulturalists actually developed many of the leading berry cultivars, Glen Ample, for instance, the most widely grown raspberry in the UK. We can grow brilliant berries here, but we must have the people to pick them.