Dairy-Tech survey exposes labour dearth on dairy farms

With a new survey commissioned for RABDF’s Dairy-Tech event, a possible shortage of labour for UK dairy farms of all sizes is predicted.

The survey of over 1,000 UK dairy farms suggests that over a third of the UK’s milk is produced on farms that employ foreign staff, almost all of whom could move or return to EU countries post-Brexit.

Sponsored by Kite Consulting and carried out by Ian Potter Marketing Services in the last quarter of 2017, the survey also indicates that more than half of dairy farmers are experiencing difficulty at some level with recruiting staff – a quarter to a significant or intense degree.

The dairy farms surveyed produce over 2.23 billion litres of milk – 15% of the UK’s overall annual volume – and have between them nearly 270,000 cows. While a total of 11% of employees were non-UK nationals (521 from 4,635 total employees including family labour), almost 17% of dairy businesses have foreign workers within their workforce. More than half of these non-UK workers are in skilled positions of herdsmen or herd managers.

Any shortage of labour from overseas following Brexit would also affect all sizes of farm. While larger farms would be more impacted, the survey indicates 40% of farms with a total of five employees or fewer (171) currently rely on at least one non-UK worker in their team; all but eight of these in the sample experienced difficulties with recruitment.

However, the reliance on non-UK labour varies across the UK. The highest was in the South East of England, where overseas workers formed 22% of the labour employed on the farms surveyed. The lowest was in the North East and East Midlands, at 1% and 3% respectively. The big milk fields of the South West, North West and Scotland were relatively similar at between 10% and 13%, with Welsh respondents relying slightly more on non-UK labour at 16%. However, it must be cautioned that some of the sample sizes are small, reflecting the regions with lower numbers of milk producers.

Commenting on the survey, John Allen, managing partner of Kite Consulting, says, “Labour issues have shot to the top of the list of challenges for many dairy farms after the Brexit referendum.

“Clearly a very significant proportion of our milk is dependent on foreign workers, and over a quarter of farmers say they have significant or intense problems recruiting. It is already one of the key limiting factors to growth, and to the effective operation of dairy farms.

“The ready and steady supply of skilled, dedicated foreign workers is critical to the success of the sector, and to its long-term prosperity.”

Matt Knight, managing director of RABDF, says the survey highlights the urgent need for government and industry to work together urgently to avoid a possible ‘cliff-edge’ shortage of labour in the near future.

“Government needs to first of all recognise the very specific needs of the UK dairy farming sector for permanent year-round semi-skilled and skilled labour. Furthermore, those roles are not going to be filled from the domestic workforce in the near future – a survey of the general public we conducted last year only 4% were willing to consider the type of job roles found on a dairy farm.

“But we as a dairy industry also need to take collective and cohesive action to improve the image of dairy farming and the attractiveness of the sector as a career option to the domestic workforce.

“Adopting a positive attitude and changing the message from problems to opportunities would help, potentially using advocates who have forged a successful career in the sector.”

The survey will be discussed further on the Dairy Hub at Dairy-Tech by Kite Consulting’s Edward Lott and RABDF’s Tim Brigstocke.

Related content

Leave a reply

Dairy Industries International