UK Dairy farmers warn of 'almost catastrophic failure' if Brexit axes EU workers
UK Dairy farmers have warned of an "almost catastrophic failure" within the sector if it loses access to European Union workers after Brexit.
A survey by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) revealed that more than half (56%) of UK 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 the Environment Department (Defra) said.
The need for labour on UK dairy farms must be considered within Brexit negotiations and migration targets.
Measures to secure continued access to European labour must be in place to avoid hitting the economic viability of the sector, UK food security and animal health and welfare, the association urged.
A survey by YouGov for the RABDF of 2,000 UK adults revealed just 4% 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.
In the long-term, action is needed by the sector to improve its image, promote its relatively competitive pay and address the problems of unsocial hours and rural isolation in order to recruit British workers, the report acknowledges.
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% 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.
"RABDF is exploring specific activities it can undertake to promote dairy farming in a positive light and raise its profile to inner city schools and their subsequent careers advisers," he added.
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