Further evidence continues to indicate potential ‘cliff edge’ labour shortage facing dairy farms

Following extensive work on the potential labour shortage facing dairy farms post-Brexit, the RABDF last week submitted an inquiry to the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee.

The organisation’s latest work was carried out in conjunction with Kite Consulting using a different database of over 1000 UK dairy farms supplied by Ian Potter Marketing Services.

RABDF managing director Matthew Knight said over 2.23 billion litres of milk is produced by the latest surveyed dairy farms – totalling 15% of the UK’s overall annual volume.

“As a country we are responsible for a tenth of Europe’s total milk supply – we are concerned that with the UK’s pending exit from the EU there will be a lack of access to a workforce able to meet the specific requirements posed by dairy farms.

“The results from our recent work with Kite only continue to highlight the decline in the ability of UK dairy farms to source domestic labour.  While a total of 11% of these employees were non-UK nationals, almost 17% of dairy businesses have foreign workers within their workforce.”

Kite Consulting’s John Allen said the supply of skilled, dedicated foreign workers is critical to the success and long term prosperity of the sector.

He continued: “It is clear there is confusion between seasonal workers in certain food producing sectors compared to the skilled and permanent needs of those in dairy farming – without a rapid solution to this problem there will be a negative impact on the economic viability of the sector.”

Reliance on non-UK labour varies across the UK* with the highest being in the South East.  The South West, North West and Scotland are relatively similar with Welsh respondents relying slightly more.

Other consumer survey results indicate a lack of willingness among UK nationals to consider a career on dairy farms with reasons being working environment, unsocial hours, jobs involving machinery or animals and the rural location.  Wholly supported by a range of reports issued over the past decade RABDF acknowledge the need of the sector to address its underlying lack of attractiveness of the sector as a career option to the domestic workforce.

Region Number of farms surveyed with labour Total workers Total non-UK workers % non-UK workers
Scotland 108 500 66 13
Northern Ireland 38 90 5 6
North West 178 854 89 10
North East 76 337 5 1
West Midlands 107 437 39 9
East Midlands 54 243 7 3
East Anglia 9 55 7 13
Wales 137 567 91 16
South West 258 1197 152 13
South East 41 205 46 22
Not specified 12 150 14 9
Total 1018 4635 521 Average 11.2%


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.