The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) has declared that the new PM and his cabinet must consider the drastic implications leaving the EU without a deal could have on our already strained overseas labour network.

Despite efforts from the association and other farming organisations, the RABDF is concerned that the Migration Advisory Committee and Defra continue to ignore the staffing crisis facing the dairy industry.

Previous work carried out by RABDF concludes that EU-labour is making a significant contribution to dairy businesses with farms becoming more reliant on overseas labour, with 56 per cent of respondents (2016) employing staff from outside the UK.

The association advises that Government must realise that these gaps won’t be filled by British workers – when they surveyed 2,000 UK adults only four per cent were willing to consider job roles on a dairy farm. The main reasons for not considering a job in the sector were the unsocial hours, rural location and working with machinery and animals.

A further survey commissioned by RABDF and carried out by Ian Potter Associates in 2017 showed that the 1,000 dairy farms surveyed produce over 2.23 billion litres of milk – 15 per cent of the UK’s overall annual volume – and have between them nearly 270,000 cows. Almost 17 per cent of these dairy businesses have foreign workers within their workforce and more than half of these non-UK workers are in skilled positions of herdsmen or herd managers.

RABDF managing director Matthew Knight said: “Labour issues have shot to the top of the list of challenges for many dairy farms after the Brexit referendum and it is clear a very significant proportion of our milk is dependent on foreign workers – over a quarter of farmers say they have significant or intense problems recruiting making it one of the key limiting factors to growth, and to the effective operation of dairy farms.

“This is only going to continue with Brexit and could have catastrophic results if we leave the EU without a deal. The ready and steady supply of skilled, dedicated foreign workers is critical to the success of the sector, and to its long-term prosperity. With this in mind the Government must consider the issue as a matter of urgency and work together with the industry to avoid what will otherwise be a cliff-edge shortage of labour in the near future.”

The RABDF are therefore urgently calling on the Migration Advisory Committee to review the need for dairy herdsman to be added to the Shortage Occupation List, a list that consists of critical jobs in short supply. Herdsmen play a vital role in the dairy industry and must be recognised as having a pivotal role when it comes to the prosperity and success of the British dairy sector.