Arla warns of further milk price rises unless labour shortage addressed

The dairy giant warned staff shortages could lead to a crisis in milk production with 58% struggling to find staff compared to 2019.

Dairy giant Arla has warned of further price rises unless the government “urgently” addresses farming labour shortages.

The UK’s largest dairy cooperative said the industry labour shortage was fuelling food price inflation and “could well lead to a crisis in milk production, if it is not addressed as a matter of urgency”.

A survey of Arla’s farmer owners found that almost three-fifths (58%) are finding it harder to find staff compared to 2019, before the pandemic and the end of free movement of people to and from the EU.

More than a tenth of farmers (12%) said they were considering leaving dairy farming altogether because of staffing issues.

Arla has called for clearer pathways into farming via apprenticeships, as 55% of farmers polled said that few or no applicants for jobs currently had the right skills.

Paul Savage, director of agriculture for Arla, said: “The last 12 months have been incredibly challenging for our farmer owners, as events like the war in Ukraine have driven up the cost of producing milk to levels we have never seen before.

“The shortage of staff in the food and farming sector has compounded this and we are at serious risk of continued food price inflation and longer-term food security issues if we don’t tackle this now.”

Difficulties with finding staff had led farmers to increase pay by 22% on average since 2019, with 60% warning that this pressure would continue over the next 12 months, with implications for food prices.

Three-fifths of farms surveyed said they are struggling to find staff compared with 2019iStock

Arla farmer Harry Davies said: “I’ve seen first-hand the problems that a shortage of staff in our industry is creating and the pressure this puts on our production costs is only going to get worse.

“We need more people coming into dairy farming with the right skills and education. A career in dairy farming is extremely rewarding with our role in feeding the nation and playing our part in reducing emissions and caring for the land around us.

“But we can’t educate people about this on our own and really need more support to help us reach schools, career advisers and other influencers to change perceptions of farming as a career of choice.”

Arla is asking for careers advisers in Job Centres and schools to be educated about the industry in order to explain to potential recruits that food and farming was now high tech, data-driven and “at the front line when it comes to sustainability”.

It has also asked for funding for transport costs for school visits to farms to allow pupils to learn about the sector.

Tess Howe, head of partnerships and membership at The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture, said: “In a time of labour shortages, another worrying statistic we’ve uncovered is that nearly half (42%) of farmers are unwilling to take on somebody without an agricultural background.

“To tackle this, we need structures in place not only to attract new entrants, but also to help employers support people as they establish their careers.”

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