Farmworker sweeping up grain© Tim Scrivener

Declining farm incomes have contributed to the size of the agricultural workforce in Scotland falling to a record low.

The Scottish government has released its June 2016 census results, which show a headcount working in agriculture of 63,400, a drop of 1,900 on 2015 figures. This follows similar drops in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

NFU Scotland’s director of policy Jonnie Hall said: “With farm incomes having halved in the past four years and declining levels of support, it is unsurprising, but disappointing to see that many businesses are pruning back on full-time labour.

“Instead, they are opting to use family, part-time labour, machinery rings and contactors more and more.”

See also: Census shows 5% drop in NI farmworkers

For the first time, the government has also published statistics on the use of migrant labour by the Scottish farming industry.

They show that 430,000 “working days” were undertaken in the year to June 2016, down 6.5% on the previous year.

On the basis that one full-time employee works the equivalent of 1,900 hours/year, this figure equates to about 1,800 people working full time.

Cereal shrinkage

The census figures also showed a 3% reduction in the cereal area (to 432,00ha) and 14.5% drop in oilseed rape plantings (to 31,000ha).

However, fallow increased markedly for the second consecutive year –by 10,000ha to 43,000ha.

Peter Loggie, NFUS combinable crops policy manager, said the falls in planted areas reflected continued poor returns for commodities.

“The large increase in fallow is partially down to greening measures and more farmers opting to put land in fallow to meet their Ecological Focus Areas [EFA] requirements.

“Fallow has been the preferred choice due to the complexity of rules for the other EFA options (especially nitrogen-fixing crops), but more land is also being placed into fallow due to the ongoing poor returns for cereals and oilseeds.”

In 2016, a requirement was introduced for farmers wanting to use nitrogen-fixing crops as an EFA to grow at least two varieties.

Many farmers have found this impractical, which has resulted in a 47% drop in the pea area and a 26% fall in beans.

The combined area of the two crops is now 20% lower than it was five years ago.