Page 7 - Farm labour in the UK
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Farm labour in the UK | Accessing the workforce the industry needs
 “It is important not to airbrush the present-day workforce, particularly the tens of thousands of casual workers, out of contemporary debates over the future of farming” (Verdon 2017)
British farming is at a crossroads. As land managers
in Britain face multiple challenges related to Brexit, climate change, policy transitions, and increasing pressure to become more environmentally sustainable, it is more important than ever to safeguard the industry. A key challenge currently facing British farming is the availability of farm labour. While agriculture as a sector only contributes to 1.4% of the country’s workforce (ONS 2020; Defra 2020c), the impact of an ever diminishing availability of labour could have significant consequences for both the structure of the industry and the country’s food production as a whole. Although not a new phenomenon, the issue of labour shortages in farming has been exacerbated by events such as the U.K leaving the European Union, which has led to drastic reductions in the number of non-UK workers available to farm businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the issue of farm labour shortages. The crisis dragged the spotlight back to the problem of labour with a new sense of urgency, as fears around a potentially compromised food-secure system were stoked by national media outlets and echoed by employers across the country. Despite widespread recognition of the potential crises associated with farm labour shortages by the state, the media, and the general public, there remains a scarcity of empirical research investigating the issue and how it might be resolved. As a country which currently imports just under 45% of its food from elsewhere (Defra 2020a), leaving fruits, vegetables, and flowers to rot in fields, as has occurred in previous years, should no longer be an option if U.K farming and its varying sectors are to remain resilient. It is time that the U.K agricultural industry and its related
stakeholders determine a new, defined course for the future of, what is currently, a precarious agricultural workforce.
This report examines the current situation regarding farm labour shortages in the U.K. It collates some of the available quantitative data in order to illustrate which sectors are most affected. It examines the drivers behind the shortages in agricultural labour. And finally, through primary research with key stakeholders and relevant initiatives, as well as drawing on secondary resources, the report explores some potential solutions to the current labour crisis in agriculture. Both the regular and seasonal workforce will be considered.
In any examination of farm labour shortages, it is important to consider the issue of skills shortages at the same time. There is a common misconception that a large proportion of farm work is unskilled. Without the right people with the necessary skills in place, the productivity of any business is likely to be negatively affected, even if all available positions are filled. The importance of skills will, therefore, also be considered in this analysis.
This report focusses on the paid agricultural workforce1, which includes permanent full-time or part-time staff, or casual workers. Seasonal labour falls under the casual category but casual also applies to other types of worker such as milking, lambing or other types of relief work. It is important to point out that unpaid family members contribute significantly to many agricultural businesses and in supporting the sector as a whole. While there is not scope within this study to include them, they are no less important and
 1 Not including the farmer/land owner or their spouse

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