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Brexit: UK Dairy Farmers warn of “catastrophic” failure if they lose access to European Union workers
October 11, 2017

Dairy farmers have warned there could be an “almost catastrophic” failure in the sector if it loses access to European Union workers after Brexit.

A survey by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) found that 56 per cent of dairy farmers employ people from the EU, many in permanent, skilled roles, amid difficulty recruiting British employees.

The current reliance on EU labour means the sector needs to maintain access to workers from European countries in the short to medium term, a report by the RABDF presented to Defra said.

David Brookes, chairman of the NFU’s West Midlands dairy board, said the dairy sector was one which required skills in areas such as engineering to ensure milking machinery remains in good condition.

“This is probably a fair analysis of where we are,” he said. “We as dairy farmers need a competent and reliable workforce. If we end up excluding ourselves from access to labour from throughout Europe it could be detrimental to our business.”

He added: “It’s a skilled operation being on a dairy farm with high tech machinery, and we need to be able to appeal to the right sort of people to come.

“We have to find a way to get the right labour to come in – just having an open door policy doesn’t necessarily mean you are encouraging the type of people with the skills that you need.”

RABDF said measures to secure continued access to European labour must be in place to avoid hitting the economic viability of the sector.

A survey by YouGov for the RABDF of 2,000 UK adults found that only four per cent were willing to do jobs that include all the main features of working on a dairy farm, such as working outside, with animals and machinery, doing flexible hours and in rural locations.

The report also calls for an overhaul of the industry’s image, promoting its relatively competitive pay and addressing problems of unsocial hours and rural isolation to encourage British workers into the dairy sector.

RABDF policy director Tim Brigstocke said current reliance on EU labour would mean an almost catastrophic failure within the sector should short-term access to overseas workers not be maintained.

“However, with our latest survey estimating 56 per cent of dairy farmers currently employ workers from the EU, it is not resilient either for us to continue to rely so heavily on overseas labour in the long-term,” he said

“So we want to look at how we can keep dairy farming from falling off a cliff edge while addressing the issues that turn off UK workers from seeking a career in the sector.

“Some of this will involve farmers and those in the supply chain taking a long, hard look at why the reputation of dairy farming is as it is.”

 


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