Page 8 - Farm labour in the UK
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 further research considering this section of the workforce is necessary.
The aims of this project were as follows:
➢ To determine the current situation regarding farm labour shortages in the U.K.
➢ To outline some possible solutions to labour shortfalls in agriculture.
➢ To explore some of the current initiatives involved in engaging alternative sources of agricultural labour.
This study used the following methods:
➢ Desk-based research of existing literature on farm labour shortages and alternative labour sources in agriculture.
➢ Qualitative semi-structured interviews with 21 stakeholders, including:
o Individuals working for farming or labour organisations. (Quoted as Farming rep 1, 2, 3, 4, Labour expert 1,2 and 3, and Horticulture expert).
o Agricultural businesses (dairy and horticulture) employing anywhere between 16 and 8,000 workers (and using a range of permanent and seasonal labour). (Quoted as Farmer 1,2 and 3).
o Operators of initiatives assisting individuals such as ex-offenders, service leavers, young people and career changers into work (agricultural and non-agricultural industries). (Quoted according to type of initiative. E.g. Service leavers 1).
This study was subject to ethical review by the Ethics Committee of the College of Social Sciences and International Studies of the University of Exeter.
“It’s an area that we haven’t paid sufficient attention to for twenty-five years” (Horticulture expert)
The history of labour on U.K farms is both long and diverse. Over the last two hundred years and beyond,
labour requirements on farms have changed dramatically, with numbers of farm workers dropping from 1.7 million in 1851 (Bolton et al 2015) to approximately 171,000 in 2020 (Defra 2020c). Numbers peaked momentarily during the second World War, as the Women’s Land Army, prisoners of war, and casual workers were united to bring in the crops (Figure 1). The war effort exemplifies a national response to a global crisis, something that was attempted to be mirrored more recently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic through the Pick for Britain campaign.
 Figure 1. Workforce on British/UK farms (thousands), June each year) (Source: Zayed and Loft 2019: 11)
Labour shortages in farming are reported to date back as early as the 14th century (Tipples and Morriss 2002), although it was not until the 19th century that low unemployment rates in Ireland drove many Irish workers to fill the ever increasing demand for agricultural labour in Great Britain (Kerr 1943). Those Irish workers were, effectively, the first migrant workers.

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