Machinery rings are increasingly called on by farms to locate skilled workers for periods of peak demand, having cut down on their full-time labour force.
In Cornwall, where Matthew Hodge runs the CKL co-operative, the demand is no longer for machines but for people to drive them – or to milk cows.
He is forming a labour pool of farmers who have stopped farming or have a small farm and time to work for someone else.
There are significant advantages from providing labour througha co-operative, he says. It saves time looking for work and payments are guaranteed by the direct debit system.
Labour placement is also busier than machinery supply in Shropshire, says Julia Brereton of SASTAK.
“A lot of dairy farmers can’t get people to milk cows, look after stock or drive tractors,” she says.
“As long as we have plenty of notice, we can usually help, but we could do with more people to place.”
Nick Tilt of 7Y Services believes more farms and young contractors should consider labour supply.
Instead of contracting with a tractor for little return they would do better selling their time and skills through the security of a co-operative or similar organisation, he says.
“Seasonal staff doubles our workforce for potato harvesting and grading,” he says.
“Ten years ago they’d all be local people, but now there’s little unemployment here and people just aren’t interested.”
Many of the overseas workers supplied by 7Y come from a local farm’s resident seasonal workforce at the end of the soft fruit season.
“Dealing with one person who organises our part-time labour requirements makes life easier, it mostly works very smoothly,” says Mr Corbett.
“I doubt we’d be growing potatoes if the service wasn’t available.”
He typically has between 25 and 30 full-time staff to contract out for periods of a day to a year, plus 100 to 200 seasonal staff for rural businesses.
“Our full-time staff get year-round employment, decent pay, a pension scheme and specialist training,” he points out.
“It doesn’t suit everyone, but, for those prepared to tackle different work, it makes a good living.”
7Y’s involvement with seasonal labour has developed in recent years.
“We ensure the legality of individuals, check they are competent and, on their behalf, visit employers to ensure they are fully insured and provide a safe working environment,” explains Mr Tilt.
“I like the independence and change of scenery every now and then,” he says.
“There’s a guaranteed wage and if things get a bit awkward with a placement, I can ask for a change.”
Mr Chandler’s year typically
involves spring potato work followed by spraying on a fruit farm through the summer, before moving on to the potato harvest in the autumn.
Winter months are spent operating a tree lifter for a local nursery.
“I like working in different places, you get to know more people and develop different skills,” he says.
“It’s nice to be asked back each year – you know you must have done a good job.”