Cows in the field

Arla unveils four-point plan for government to urgently address farming labour

  • Arla is calling on the government and industry to work together to bring more people into food and agriculture
  • Food security at risk and further price rises on the horizon if we don’t act now to address deep labour market issues, shows new survey of UK dairy farmers  
  • Britain’s biggest dairy cooperative found that more than half of its farmer owners are finding it harder to find staff, compared to 2019

The UK’s largest dairy cooperative, Arla, has today unveiled a four-point plan to help the government address the labour shortage in agriculture.

The call on government, which includes setting out clearer pathways into farming via apprenticeships, highlights that the industry labour shortage is fuelling food price inflation and could well lead to a crisis in milk production, if it is not addressed as a matter of urgency. 

A survey* of Arla’s farmer owners found that almost three-fifths (57.7%) are finding it harder to find staff compared to 2019, before the pandemic and the end of free movement of people to and from the EU. With one-in-eight farmers claiming they could quit altogether because of labour market challenges.

Arla research shows that young people have a limited understanding of what modern farming involves, and the fact that more than half (54.8%) of farmers say that few or no applicants for jobs right now have the right skills demonstrates there’s an acute need to educate, inform and upskill in this area.

Paul Savage, director of agriculture for Arla, comments: “The last twelve months have been incredibly challenging for our farmer owners, as events like the war in Ukraine have driven up the cost of producing milk to levels we have never seen before. The shortage of staff in the food and farming sector has compounded this and we are at serious risk of continued food price inflation and longer-term food security issues if we don’t tackle this now.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is recruiting people into the industry. A big issue is that the preconceptions people have about dairy farming are very different to the reality. Farmers play a key role in providing healthy, nutritious food. They work with innovative new technologies and data, and they’re at the forefront of tackling climate change. We know that all of these are important factors when people are choosing their careers.

“That’s why we have started a campaign to highlight how farming has changed. We have also begun to signpost our farmers towards advice from the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture. Arla will be doing a lot more, and we need the Government to join in via a public marketing campaign celebrating agricultural careers as well as improved career advice in schools and Job Centres.”

Difficulties with finding staff means that wage bills have also shot up. Farmers surveyed said they had increased pay by almost a quarter on average since 2019 (22%); the majority (60.3%) warned that this pressure would continue over the next 12 months, with obvious implications for food prices.

Even more worrying is the fact that a sizeable minority predict that shortages of people will cause them to reduce output or cut the size of their herd. More than a tenth of farmers (11.8%) say they are considering leaving dairy farming altogether because of staffing issues.

Arla farmer, Harry Davies, adds: “I’ve seen first-hand the problems that a shortage of staff in our industry is creating and the pressure this puts on our production costs is only going to get worse. We need more people coming into dairy farming with the right skills and education. A career in dairy farming is extremely rewarding with our role in feeding the nation and playing our part in reducing emissions and caring for the land around us. But we can’t educate people about this on our own and really need more support to help us reach schools, career advisors and other influencers to change perceptions of farming as a career of choice.”

In March Arla launched a campaign to challenge people to think differently about farmers and their role in addressing climate change. The dairy cooperative is also supporting farmers on its higher standards programme, Arla C.A.R.E, with access to people training to help attract & retain talent.

In addition to stepping up the pace, Arla is asking the UK government to increase support for farmers in this area and help future-proof British dairy production by:

  • Educating careers advisors in Job Centres and schools so they understand and can explain to potential recruits that food and farming is now high tech, data-driven and at the frontline when it comes to sustainability.
  • Working with industry on a coordinated marketing campaign targeted at potential recruits, their friends and their parents to explain what a modern career in food and farming looks like, building on work already undertaken by Arla, the NFU, and others.
  • Specifically, to find ways to fund transport costs for school visits to farms, since this can be a real blockage to allowing pupils to learn about the sector in practice.
  • And setting out clearer pathways into farming via T-Levels and apprenticeships, and for these to be properly resourced, provide good on-farm training, involve the industry, and be aimed not just at people who are already on farms.

Tess Howe, head of partnerships and membership at The Institute for Agriculture & Horticulture, comments: “TIAH’s own research across all sectors of agriculture and horticulture matches Arla’s findings, highlighting that there is a huge knowledge gap amongst careers influencers about the industry and the opportunities available. In a time of labour shortages, another worrying statistic we’ve uncovered is that nearly half (42%) of farmers are unwilling to take on somebody without an agricultural background.

“To tackle this, we need structures in place not only to attract new entrants, but also to help employers support people as they establish their careers. We are pleased to see Arla taking initiative in the dairy sector and look forward to working with them as part of the wider, cross-industry, careers action plan that TIAH is co-ordinating to attract more people into farming and growing careers.”

Contact Information

Fiona Lane

Notes to editors

*Survey of 602 Arla Farmers, conducted March 2023.