A new YouGov survey commissioned by the RABDF suggests that only 4% of UK adults would consider all key aspects of working on dairy farms personally acceptable, casting doubt on whether future restrictions on accessing labour from the EU can be solved by recruiting from the domestic workforce.
The survey of over 2,000 people carried out in early June, found that among those who do consider at least one of the features of dairy farming – such as working in a rural location – acceptable, interest appears to diminish when they find out the role is in dairy farming.
Furthermore, a lower percentage of skilled or qualified adults in the UK are likely to consider a job in dairy farming (9%) compared with semi (19%) or low-skilled workers (12%), despite competitive pay.
Mike King, chairman of RABDF, says the survey not only throws light on an image problem with dairy farming, but suggests the domestic workforce cannot currently be relied upon to plug labour shortages.
He explains: “EU workers currently fill a large number of roles in dairy farming, which are varied and largely permanent. But post-Brexit, we could see access to that labour disappear.
“The survey indicates many UK workers simply don’t like the thought of some of the features of dairy farming, like the need for flexible hours or working outside. The least popular task is working with machinery – only 17% of all UK adults would consider it acceptable if they were applying for a job now. Just 27% will consider a job involving animals, and working in a rural location is deemed acceptable by only 36%.
“This, coupled with the tail-off in interest when people realise the role is in dairy farming, shows we need to take a long term look at the image we portray but also secure access to the labour we need in the short term.”
Mr King says the dairy sector has very different labour needs compared with other farming sectors – such as fresh produce businesses which rely on seasonal unskilled labour from EU countries.
“Even for dairy farms which calve seasonally rather than year-round, labour requirements are relatively static with a big emphasis on skilled or qualified permanent labour to cope with the shift towards precision-based management of animals, forage and land,” he says.
“This is why the results of this survey sound warning bells for dairy farming, especially when considering them in light of UK dairy farmers’ growing reliance on staff from the EU.”
Repeat polls of dairy farmers run by RABDF itself in 2014 and 2016 show the number experiencing difficulty recruiting staff within the previous five years rose from 40% in 2014 to 51% in 2016, and those employing staff from outside the UK in the previous five years increased from 32% to 56%.
In 2016, 93% of dairy farmers polled by the RABDF said the use of EU labour had been a successful option for their farm, with 83% saying they employed EU labour due to ‘willingness to work’, and 63% because of insufficient UK staff availability. 60% expected their EU staff to remain for three or more years.
The farmers polled in 2016 also said 50% of their workers were highly skilled or mainly highly skilled in dairy and able to do most of the jobs on a dairy farm; 85% had staff from Poland and 23%, from Romania.
All figures for the 2017 survey are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2097 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between1st - 2nd June 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
More than 2,000 UK adults were questioned in early June 2017 to find out how acceptable they would find the option of working in the dairy farming sector. The questions established their willingness in the past to consider the acceptability of a number of general working conditions, and whether they would consider them acceptable now.
Of the 10 features listed relating to a working environment, six were strongly related to dairy farming – working with animals, working with machinery, being mainly outdoors, situated in rural locations, working within small workforces, and a requirement for flexibility in working hours due to the likelihood of some early morning/late evening and weekend working. Key findings include:
- Very few people – 4% in this survey – were willing to consider job roles that include all the main [six] features of working on a dairy farm.
- Of those finding any of the features related to dairy farming personally acceptable, between 63% and 85% of these appeared to lose interest once they were aware the role was in dairy farming and were unlikely to consider a job in the sector.
- Working with machinery and animals is particularly unpopular, as is working in a rural location.
- A tiny number (12 from the whole sample) of skilled or well-qualified respondents appear to accept the main features of working on a dairy farm and would be likely to consider a role in the sector. The greatest proportion – 51% – of those unlikely to consider a role in dairy farming are skilled or well-qualified.
A copy of the survey headlines can be found here
The RABDF EU labour survey 2014 was carried out online and featured 250 producers of which 52% had more than 200 cows. The RABDF EU labour survey 2016 was carried out online and featured 160 producers of which 67% had more than 200 cows. In summary:
• 51% of respondents in 2016 had experienced difficulty recruiting staff within the last five years; in 2014 this was 40%
• 56% of respondents in 2016 had employed staff from outside the UK in the last five years; in 2014 this was 32%
• 93% of dairy farmers in both surveys said that overall, the use of EU labour had been a successful option for their farm.
• 50% of these workers in 2016 were highly skilled or mainly highly skilled in dairy, that is, they were able to do most of the jobs on a dairy farm. 85% had recruited from Poland and 23% from Romania.
• 83% of respondents in 2016 indicated ‘willingness to work’ was the reason why they employed EU labour.
• 63% of respondents said they employed EU labour due to insufficient UK staff availability; this was virtually unchanged from 2014.
• 60% of respondents in 2016 indicated they expected their EU staff to remain for three or more years; in 2014, 56% said they expected them to remain for two years or more. Very few regarded them as seasonal, transient or temporary.
• Of particular note in 2014, 30% of the EU-labour was sourced from a specialist dairy labour agency, whilst very few were sourced via the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) which ceased to operate in 2013.
• In 2016, 62% of respondents were concerned Brexit would affect their ability to employ EU labour; 42% anticipated that retaining existing migrant labour would be an issue; 58% were concerned about their unit’s financial viability due to labour shortage.