New survey reveals a third of dairy farmers have considered leaving due to staff shortages

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 resources, a recent review has found.

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.

This 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.

Unsociable working hours

Employers say unsocial working hours and lack of interest 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 no weekend work; attractive house packages; and pensions.

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.

‘We need access to these skilled workers’

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.

Knight said that 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 (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.

Knight concluded:

There is 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.”