Dairy farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff with some producers potentially being forced to leave the industry due to a lack of resource, a recent review has found.
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Dairy cows feed at Mitch Breunig's farm near Sauk City on Friday, July 24, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

A survey of dairy farmers 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% in 2016 and 40% in 2014 when the RABDF last surveyed farmers using repeated polls about labour.

It is something that is of increasing concern with almost all respondents (80%) saying staff recruitment was something that worried them and almost a third (32.5%) saying 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 two of 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% 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 domestic workforce has seen the reliance on foreign labour remain with almost half of respondents (42.1%) employing foreign workers in the last five years. The reliance on foreign labour is concerning with access to any new foreign workers being restricted following Brexit.

RABDF Managing Director Matt Knight said: “Despite repeated calls to the Government to try and get dairy workers included on the Migration Advisory Committee’s Shortage Occupation List or included as a skilled worker, we have not had any luck in doing so. 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 on dairy farms (54%) were aged between 16-34, with 75% of employees aged under 49 -well below the national average age in agriculture of 651. 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 adds: “These initiatives take time, which is why we’ve written to the MAC highlighting these results and requesting they reconsider including dairy workers on Shortage Occupation List or as a skilled worker.”

Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.

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