Third of dairy farmers may quit amid labour shortages

Dairy farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff post-Brexit, according to a survey
Dairy farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff post-Brexit, according to a survey

A third of dairy farmers say they are considering leaving the industry due to increasing labour shortages, a recent review has found.

Dairy producers are finding it difficult to recruit staff with some potentially being forced to leave the industry due to a lack of resource.

A survey conducted by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) in December and January found 63% of farmers struggled to recruit in the last five years.

This is up from 51 percent in 2016 and 40 percent in 2014 when the charity last surveyed producers using repeated polls about labour.

Almost all respondents (80%) said staff recruitment was something that worried them and almost a third (32.5%) said they would consider leaving the industry due to a lack of dairy labour.

Employers say unsocial working hours and not enough people interested in dairy farming are the main reasons for people not wanting to work on dairy farms, with 28% reporting staff leaving due to unsociable working hours.

This is despite 77 percent of employers saying they had made changes on their farm to make the workplace more attractive.

Changes included creating dedicated staff facilities; offering more time off and not working weekends; attractive house packages and pensions, for example.

The difficulty in recruiting from the UK workforce has seen the reliance on foreign labour remain with almost half of respondents (42.1%) employing foreign workers in the last five years.

RABDF said the reliance on foreign labour was concerning with access to any new foreign workers being restricted following Brexit.

Managing director Matt Knight said: “We need access to these skilled workers, especially in the short-term until longer-term solutions to the dairy labour issue are found.”

Encouragingly, half of the labour employed (54%) were aged between 16-34, with 75% of employees aged under 49 - well below the national average age in agriculture of 65.

Apprentices make up a valuable part of the workforce with over half (57.5%) of survey respondents employing one and 86.5% saying they would consider taking on an apprentice.

Mr Knight added there was a lot of work to do around the image of dairy farming to attract new entrants and workers into the industry.

"From all the surveys RABDF has undertaken over the last seven years they have each highlighted a fundamental problem with the image of dairy farming.

"The long and unsocial hours seem to be the main limiting factors when it comes to recruiting staff on dairy farms," he said.

“We are looking at solutions including working with land-based colleges to promote dairy specific courses and working with youth groups to promote dairy farming as a career to non-farmers for example. "