Farming News - Dairy farmers need to rethink EU staff sourcing

Dairy farmers need to rethink EU staff sourcing

Don’t be caught out by thinking dairy farm staff from the EU will continue to flow to the UK under the new immigration system that will apply from Jan 1st, says Rachael Madeley Davies, from Kite Consulting. But, she stresses, there are opportunities for dairy farmers to rethink their staffing policies and make them more sustainable post-Brexit.

“Dairy farmers rely on EU labour to a much higher extent than the rest of the livestock sector, which tend to use more family labour,” Rachael explains. “The industry also has some units that rely on a system that involves a high turnover of EU staff and these are going to find it challenging to bring in farm staff in the same way.”

Under the new legislation only those workers that meet the criteria for ‘highly skilled’ and ‘skilled’ or those on the Shortage Occupation List will have access to the UK jobs market and most agricultural workers, including ‘general farm worker’ and ‘milker’, are not classified as being part of those groups.

“While this will prove disruptive for some businesses there is also an opportunity to improve labour management policies,” says Rachael. “As an industry we have not been good at attracting or retaining good local labour. Now is the time to look at how you can change that. Look at working conditions and hours. How can they be improved or adapted to attract and meet local labour opportunities? Do you offer training and career progression? Ask yourself how you make a career on your dairy farm more attractive.”

Rachael also believes that the Covid-19 epidemic will bring labour opportunities; “Sectors such a hospitality have been badly hit and many of the skills from this sector are transferable into dairy farming,” she says. “Think about how you can attract more workers from other sectors to fill vacancies left by a lack of EU labour.

“The dairy industry’s reliance on labour from the EU was something that was never particularly sustainable but it has been thrown into clearer focus by the changes that will take place on January 1st 2021. Investing in recruiting and training good staff is money well spent, will increase business efficiency and in the long run help build resilience in the business,” she concludes.

For more on this topic listen to Kite Consultancy’s latest podcast, the first of the “Bitesize Brexit“ series. Focusing on the looming labour issues, it features dairy farmer Henry Lewis and Kite’s Rachael Madeley-Davies discussing what EU-Exit might mean practically for dairy farm labour supply and what future dairy farm labour and recruitment might look like. 

It’s available, with all other Kite Consulting’s podcasts at