Farming image must change to prevent disastrous labour shortages, report reveals

There is an urgent need to change the image of farming in order to prevent disastrous labour shortages, a report warns.

The poor image of farming as a career – associations with low pay, long hours, poor work-life balance, bad conditions, lack of progression, heavy physical labour and unskilled work – needs to be reformed, experts have said.

Researchers looked at labour issues existing for both seasonal and more permanent roles.

The report suggests potential new entrants for permanent jobs in the industry might include career changers, military service leavers, ex-offenders and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Farming is an ‘invisible career’ to anybody who isn’t from a farming background, and this needs to change"

Key members of the industry interviewed for the report described potential labour shortages as “disastrous”, leading to greater imports of fresh food and farms going out of business or relocating abroad.

Worker rights in those countries might be less stringent than those in the UK, putting more people at risk of exploitation.

Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic, fluctuations in the value of the pound, the improvement of the economies of countries in Eastern Europe and new immigration laws are likely to exacerbate labour shortfalls in the coming years, the report warns.

The study, by Dr Caroline Nye and Professor Matt Lobley from the University of Exeter, said farms will need to become more competitive and attractive as places to work and the industry itself needs to improve its self-promotion.

There is a need for employers to open up opportunities to people who are enthusiastic but might need extra training or time to develop new skills.

The report says the Migration Advisory Committee needs to revisit the definition of agricultural labourers to ensure that the farming industry is not disadvantaged by new immigration policies.

Dr Nye and Prof Lobley reviewed existing literature on farm labour shortages and alternative labour sources in agriculture.