Dairy farms struggle to recruit workers due to unsocial hours

Dairy farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff because of the long and unsociable hours involved, with some producers considering quitting as a result, according to a new survey.

The survey of 121 dairy farmers, conducted by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) in December and January, found 63% of farmers struggled to recruit in the past five years.

This is up from 51% in 2016 (when 160 people completed the survey) and 40% in 2014 (when 250 completed the survey).

See also: Government leaves dairy workers off shortage occupation list

Four out of five respondents said staff recruitment was something that worried them and almost one-third (32.5%) said they would consider leaving the industry due to a lack of dairy labour.

Unsociable working hours and not enough people interested in dairy farming were two of the main reasons cited by employers for people not wanting to work on dairy farms.

More than three-quarters (77%) of employers said they had already made changes on their farm to make the workplace more attractive.

Changes included creating dedicated staff facilities; offering more time off and not working weekends; and providing attractive housing packages and pensions.

But RABDF managing director Matt Knight said the long and unsociable hours seemed to be the main limiting factor when it came to recruiting staff on dairy farms.

“We are looking at solutions including working with land-based colleges to promote dairy-specific courses and working with youth groups to promote dairy farming as a career to non-farmers, for example,” he said.

“However, it is also important we consider alternative working practices to make working hours more sociable to attract more workers on to farms. We will be following this up in the coming months with industry consultation.”

Foreign labour worries

Difficulty in recruiting from the domestic workforce has seen the reliance on foreign labour remain, with almost half of respondents (42.1%) employing foreign workers in the past five years. 

However, this reliance on foreign labour is a concern, with access to any new foreign workers being restricted following Brexit. 

RABDF continues to push for dairy workers to be included on the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list or included as a skilled worker, but has not been successful to date.

 Other key findings

  • 58% of farmers said it took them anywhere from four weeks to 12 weeks or longer to recruit staff
  • Over half of the labour employed on dairy farms (54%) is aged between 16 and 34, with 75% of employees aged under 49 – well below the national average age in agriculture of 65
  • Over half (57.5%) of survey respondents employed an apprentice and 86.5% said they would consider taking on an apprentice
  • Over 81% of employers paid their herdsperson an average wage of £26,000 or more, with 12% paid over £36,000.