The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) is calling on the government to amend its decision not to include dairy workers on the MAC shortage occupation list following this week's announcement of the new points-based immigration system.

RABDF believes it will be the larger dairy operators most affected as they tend to rely more heavily on skilled, migrant labour.

Commenting on the decision, RABDF policy Ddrector Tim Brigstocke said: “Migrant workers have a huge range of skills that are core to the running of dairy farm businesses, from operating high-tech computers to ensuring optimum cow health and welfare. Although they have the skills needed on the farm whether they can demonstrate them with ‘a level equivalent qualifications’ is a different matter.

“In the 30 years I have been presenting evidence to Government this is the first time, when talking about labour, they don’t believe a word we are telling then. This is a huge worry,” he said.

Taking into effect from January 1 2021, the new points-based system will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions and visas giving priority to those with the ‘highest skills and greatest talents’.

RABDF fears the industry will be left with a severe labour shortage because the government do not class dairy workers as ‘highly skilled’ and they have not been included on the MAC shortage occupation list.

A survey by RABDF in 2016 found over half of respondents employed staff from outside of the UK in the last five years – a 24 per cent increase on 2014. Almost two-thirds said this was due to insufficient UK staff being available.

In the same survey more than 50 per cent of migrant workers on dairy farms were classed as highly skilled or mainly highly skilled- something the UK government fails to recognize.

Read more: UK's immigration system will not include visa for low-skilled workers

RABDF council member and former chairman, Mike King, runs a herd of 700 cows in south Gloucestershire and has a workforce made up of 70% of migrant labour. He is already seeing a labour shortage.

He said: “In the last six months, there has been a gradual deterioration in the number of candidates applying for job positions and the vacancies are getting high. We have been running adverts with no applications regardless of the rate of pay.

“We had hoped the announcement on the salary threshold would be beneficial but the focus towards the skills angle and with dairying not classed as a skill and not listed on the MAC list is a worry.”

Mr King said home secretary Priti Patel’s message to fill the labour gap by investing in training ‘economically inactive’ people and using technology was misplaced and not the answer.

He added: “Robots may have their place, but they do not remove the need for labour. If we had robots on our farm, we would need to have more staff on call than we do now to deal with the breakdowns and problems that arise. Technology on farms will never replace the individual.”