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Who will milk the cows of the future?

Nuffield Scholar Andrew Brewer researched and travelled around the world to find out more on his scholarship’s title, ‘Who will milk the cows?’ Here he discusses his findings with Laura Bowyer.

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Who will milk the cows of the future? #teamdairy #milk #nextgen

Does the dairy industry need to change to encourage young entrants? #teamdairy #nextgen

Believing not enough is being done to encourage young people into the dairy industry, Andrew Brewer embarked on a Nuffield Scholarship to investigate the problem.

A dairy farmer himself, Mr Brewer milks 750 Jersey crosses once-a-day, employing three full-time and three part-time staff.

Mr Brewer says: “There is far too much reliance on foreign labour on dairy farms at the moment. We are not encouraging our children, let alone other young people, into the sector. There are good, highly paid jobs in the industry on and off farm.

“We are not promoting our industry well enough and, consequently, it is not being viewed as a progressive career path.

“Some farmers are now realising they need to look after their staff, because good crops require good seeds.”

Farmers Guardian has pulled Mr Brewer’s findings together on future staffing of the sector.


"We need to act now to ensure our future"

Future staff needs


A survey carried out by Careers in Farming and Food Supply, of the perception of interviewees suggested the agricultural industry was boring, repetitive and low-paid.

“Over the next five years, the agriculture sector will need 60,000 new entrants. We need to act now to ensure our future.


“An industry needs to understand what the next generation requires from life. This may mean employing two people instead of one to reduce working hours per person.

“It may mean supplying quality accommodation to more staff.”


With a variety of farms, an industry-wide approach to progression is difficult.


Progression in a business would be appreciated by most, and variation of personalities should be appreciated.”

Being trapped

Many staff, farmers and family members are disengaged, deeply unhappy and stressed.

“Some family members feel trapped within the business and are threatened and frightened they will receive nothing from the previous generation unless they work for a pittance. An industry target should be to change the mentality of working all hours for often less than minimum wage.”

Staff churn

A high labour turnover is not normal and with every change of staff comes a loss of knowledge. Unless time and effort is put in to stop this loss, the business will ultimately lose out.

“Retaining staff is an underrated attribute of many successful businesses.

“The hidden cost of losing these members of staff and their silent knowledge is very hard to quantify. Often time efficiency is lost on the job just by not having the experience.

“Staff replacement costs can be three times the exiting employee’s salary.”

Working hours

A high proportion of dairy farm workers in the UK sign the Working Time form, agreeing to opt out of a 48-hour working week. Many workers on a dairy farm will work more than 60 hours each working week.

“Most non-agriculture workers will have two or more days off a fortnight and have 21 days paid holiday a year, plus time in lieu of Bank Holidays. In most industries in the UK, staff will work less than a 40-hour week.

“But many owner-occupied farmers will proudly tell you they work more than 100 hours per week with little or no holidays. As successful farmers expand their businesses from employing relief staff to full-time staff, and become managers, they often expect staff to work as many hours as they do.

“In the UK, we need to look at industries in our own country for working hour equivalents, not to the US where they have a different work culture.”

"We need to look at industries in our own country's working hour equivalents"

Key points


  • The best businesses value their workforces
  • Success attracts people; constant negativity repels
  • Farmers and the wider industry must engage with secondary school teachers and pupils
  • Agriculture needs to become part of mainstream curriculum
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