A farmworker washes clusters© Tim Scrivener

Maintaining current levels of reliance on EU labour within the UK dairy industry would lead to an “almost catastrophic” failure within the sector after Brexit.

However, a new report from the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), which surveyed 2,000 UK adults, indicated that just 4% of UK respondents would consider jobs that contained a number of features and responsibilities associated with dairy farms.

These included working outdoors, flexible hours, working with animals, working with machinery, working in small workforces and in rural locations.

See also: A legal guide to employing farm staff

The report, which was presented to Defra’s Access to Labour team on 3 October, said dairy farming needed to maintain access to EU labour in the short term while building a pipeline of domestic workers for the future.

Just 12% of well qualified respondents accepted the main features of working on dairy farms, while 52% said they would not consider roles within the industry, according to the report.

 

Turned off

Of the 80 respondents who found some features of dairy farming appealing, between 63-85% lost interest when it became clear the jobs were in the dairy industry and stated they were unlikely to consider a role in the sector.

Working with machinery, animals and in rural settings were particularly unpopular among respondents.

The RABDF said the survey highlighted an unwillingness of the current UK workforce to meet the specific needs of the UK dairy industry post Brexit.

The organisation also called upon the government to recognise the need for dairy farmers to have access to a steady stream of permanent, year-round skilled and semi-skilled labour.

Without such an agreement in place for when the UK leaves the EU, the RABDF warned of a significant impact to the 13,000 UK dairy farmers, as well as the 80,000 related jobs the sector creates, worth around £6bn to the UK economy each year.

Cliff edge

“With our latest survey estimating 56% of dairy farmers currently employ workers from the EU, it is not resilient either for us to continue to rely so heavily on overseas labour in the long term,” said RABDF policy director Tim Brigstocke.  

“We want to look at how we can keep dairy farming from falling off a cliff edge while addressing the issues that turn off UK workers from seeking a career in the sector.

“Some of this will involve farmers and those in the supply chain taking a long hard look at why the reputation of dairy farming is as it is,” Mr Brigstocke added.