Page 10 - Farm labour in the UK
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    Numbers of agricultural workers in the UK currently
stand at approximately 171,0002, the same figure as ten years ago (Defra 2020c). However, this sum does not include casual workers. Defra recorded a total of 42,984 casual workers in England in 2019, although industry figures suggest that the actual number is much higher. Recent studies, as well as a growing consensus among industry bodies and businesses, recognise that a lack of workers to fill positions in farming across the UK is fast becoming a crisis within the industry (Nye 2021).
‘‘There are not as many skilled farm labourers out there. Some of the farmers will advertise and literally not have any applications” (Labour expert 3)
From the yearly flurry of media articles on fruit pickers in recent years, it would be easy to assume that labour shortages in agriculture only occur on holdings reliant upon seasonal labour, especially horticulture. However, this is not the case. A call for evidence issued by the government in 2017 (House of Commons 2017a) revealed that many sectors were experiencing difficulties in finding the labour required on their holdings. This included seasonal workers for the horticulture, poultry, and egg industries, as well as permanent workers for the poultry, pig, dairy and egg industries. In addition to this, a study of 1251 agricultural holdings in south west England showed a high incidence of difficulty in finding skilled labour among horticulture, dairy and mixed farming systems, particularly on holdings between 100 and 250 hectares in size (Nye 2018), while prior to the referendum, data showed that labour requirements on some farms were likely to increase (Nye 2017b).
2 Includes regular full time, regular part time, and causal workers, does not include farmers, partners, directors, spouses or salaried managers.
3 Settled status is granted following five years’ continuous residence in the UK, while pre-settled status required
“Finding good herd managers is an issue. And good stock people, I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with [farmers] over the past couple of years who say it’s difficult to source really good staff. I think also, generally speaking, there’s a whole generation of farm managers not there” (Farming rep 3)
Work on farms has developed to rely increasingly upon either the adept skill of the picker, or the highly skilled requirements associated with technological advances and precision farming, such as GPS systems, soil sensor systems, and satellite imaging. However, general perceptions of work in agriculture have not kept up with such technological advances, meaning that fewer UK natives are taking up careers in farming. Other barriers exist, which vary across the sectors and types of labour required, and are explored in more detail in section 2.3. These constraints, combined with the UK’s recent departure from the EU, mean that many farm businesses will struggle to access the workers they need. In December 2020, Defra announced an expanded quota of 30,000 seasonal worker permits known as the Extended Pilot (Defra 2021). This is based on an estimate that 50,000 workers are required to fulfil seasonal roles, and the hope that domestic workers and automation will make up the shortfall. While many employers will have sought settled or pre-settled status3 for their EU employees prior to leaving the EU, those who fall short will no longer be licenced to source their own labour from overseas. Instead they will have to use one of the four pilot operators selected by the government. The decision to limit migrant workers has received a mixed reception from businesses and
anyone residing for less than this length of time to have already been living in the UK before the 31st December 2020.

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