22 June 2001

Farmers earning just 60p above minimum wage

By James Garner

MANY farmers are working harder for little more than the governments national minimum wage, according to a new survey.

Most now work a 70-hour week for £4.70 an hour – just 60p above the minimum wage, which rises to £4.10 in October.

The study Cost of your time was conducted by accountant Deloitte & Touche and the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

Data showed that more than 300 farmers from mainly mixed farms work horrendous hours – some up to 90 hours a week.

Yet farmers wages are just a quarter of those paid in comparable jobs. For example, estate agents earn an average of £19 an hour.

When asked how much they would be willing to pay a farm manager to cover their duties, the average response was about £30,000 or £8.50 an hour, double what they had received.

Only 42% of an average farmers day was spent on hands-on farm work; the rest of their time was dedicated to a host of other tasks (see diagram).

Alan Spedding of RASE told a press briefing in Cambridge that farmers were working longer hours because there were now fewer full-time labourers, down 26% compared with five years ago.

"This has to be put into context," said Mr Spedding. "Some enjoy working so much that they struggle to differentiate between work and play. The challenge must be to help farmers work smarter rather than harder. Many said they were just fire-fighting, dashing from one crisis to another."

Richard Crane of Deloitte and Touche said: "Farmers need to assess the roles they play; identify the ones they do well and look to pay others to do the rest."

He said many farmers should consider employing a farm secretary to cope with paperwork.

It might cost £10,000 and farmers might question whether they could afford this, but by freeing up managerial time they would soon recoup this money.

"Another surprise was the comparatively small amount of time spent buying inputs and selling their produce," he said.

"An increasing number of farmers depend on agronomists and buying groups, while others now participate in grain marketing groups and co-operatives to reduce their risks." &#42