The dairy sector has a future with 60% of agriculture students expressing an interest in a dairy farming career, according to succession survey conducted by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers.
However these youngsters’ firm commitment is dependent on dairying being a profitable sector which calls for processors, retailers and foodservice alike agreeing to a consistent fair and sustainable milk price, RABDF chairman, Lyndon Edwards told a breakfast briefing last week at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show, Stoneleigh Park, Coventry.
“Continuing fall out from the industry coupled with the fact the alleged average age of dairy farmer is 55 years, led us to question does UK dairy farming really have a future, a national herd and critically, enough people to manage and milk it?,” Mr Edwards explained. “To find out for ourselves, last month RABDF conducted two surveys, one for dairy farmers and one for students. We received an overwhelming response from 320 farmers and 100 students.
“In the first instance, the findings indicated that the average age of the farmer is 49 years and the average age of the herdsman a sprightly 42 years, while 48% of farmers indicated they knew who would succeed them. However, just over 60% of agriculture students said they were interested in a career in dairying with 80% of those actually committed to milking cows. However, 61% of farmers did not know anyone under 25 years old looking for a career in dairy farming while 64% indicated they would be interested in taking a student placement which suggests there is a need for a marriage bureau to bring the two together.
“Surprisingly, lifestyle was the main attraction to dairying for these students; working with livestock came top at 97%, working outdoors, 82% and way of life, 63%, while just over half of the students appreciated the sector’s daily new challenges.”
Understandably, high investment costs, farm availability and lack of opportunities for entry were among the biggest challenges to students from a non dairying background. When questioned what were the biggest turns offs to dairy farming, it came as no surprise they quoted long hours and the perception of poor wages, said Mr Edwards.
“For our industry to be more attractive to the next generation, then perceptions of time off will need to be adapted and attitudes must change to allow regular holidays combined with relative staff remuneration, for example bonuses based on performance.
“Finally, we asked farmers their opinions on how young people can be encouraged in to the industry from a business perspective. The resounding response was the need for essential profitability, a higher milk price and opportunity for investment which in turn would help to counter those long unsocial hours. The students we surveyed demonstrated that they had a real passion for dairy farming however, and it’s a big however, without profitability then they are simply not going to commit.”
Mr Edwards added: “I believe the survey responses reflect the truly unstoppable nature of our dairy farmers regardless of age, their resilience to hardship and their immense propensity to adapt to new challenges. UK dairy farmers have the ability to produce more milk and with reduced environmental impact, and they are also willing to invest in their businesses. However they first need the firm assurance that the current milk price issue is being taken seriously by processors, retailers and foodservice alike and they will agree to a consistent fair and sustainable milk price to guarantee these farmers a future within the British dairy industry.
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