30 November 2001

High wages are not enough to keep a skilled workforce

THERE is a danger that the UKs pool of skilled stockmen will dry up as workers are put off by the industrys bad image and poor working conditions on some farms, a conference in Wales was warned.

Professor Wynne Jones, principal of Harper Adams College, said far fewer young people were taking the types of courses that equipped them for working on farms.

"We have to start treating stock workers as a precious resource. It is not just a question of money, we also have to provide the best possible conditions or it will become increasingly difficult to get manpower," he told the annual Future Farmers of Wales conference at Builth Wells.

New Zealander John Weston-Arnold, whose family runs 650 dairy cows in Pembrokeshire, also predicted a skilled labour shortage. The best workers are not prepared to accept high wages to compensate for poor facilities or outdated management.

He believes employers need vision and to treat workers fairly and with respect. His experience of managing farms has taught him that the best stockmen put more milk in the bulk tank.

"Not everyone can get the best out of cows. You need to measure peoples performances and your own," said Mr Weston-Arnold.

He told his audience, of Welsh Trainee of the Year Award finalists, they were working in an exciting industry with plenty of opportunities. But to succeed they needed to take every chance of updating their knowledge.

"There is room for many more discussion groups like the Grasshoppers, where people can learn from each other and benchmark their performance." &#42