Andrew Brewer published key report: who will Milk the Cows: the recruitment, training and retention of high quality workers in the dairy industry

Andrew Brewer’s Executive Summary

Dairy farms have grown in unit size and the need for labour has grown alongside but, as technology increasingly takes over the “robot worker” tasks, the quality of this labour requirement has changed. The need to increase the capability of the work force is now a top priority.

A recent UK poll called for more vocational learning and the RASE published a report stressing the need for 60000 new entrants into agriculture in the next 5 years. The dairy industry must see this as an opportunity to source future technicians for farms.

The focus of my study was to find, within the various businesses I studied, best practice among employers in attracting and retaining staff, starting from a base level.  Is the industry finding attracting and retaining staff difficult due to farm system, man management or industry image?  Or is it also due to the agriculture industry’s lack of knowledge within the education system? 

The countries visited were chosen or recommended to give both the widest range of dairy systems as well as having world-leading businesses outside agriculture. My studies covered positive to negative businesses/industries; highly controlled versus free trade; businesses using almost totally migrant labour as opposed to entirely indigenous labour.


Many dairy farming businesses in the UK are seen as employing migrant labour used as manual robot workers; working long hours and being used as a least-cost option whilst high-cost top end machinery is purchased.  Farming businesses need to start valuing all labour as a high quality resource and not as a disposable commodity, and it should be valued as highly as the shiny new farm tractor.

Key finding of the study are:

·        All successful businesses utilise their natural competitive advantages - be they climate, soil, proximity to market or availability of cost-effective labour.

·        The capability of business owners to develop people management skills is often outstripped by the rate at which their businesses grow.

·        The cost to businesses of lack of human resource management ability is largely hidden and just accepted.  As an industry the loss of skills developed on farm by staff, and loss of knowledge from businesses, has to be addressed.

·        The lack of interaction by agricultural business within the UK with secondary education has led to a disconnect with the public sector, where many are most receptive and actively looking for careers.

·        The quality of future dairy owners and their staff will depend on making EQ (Emotional Intelligence) equally as important as IQ

·        New staff must be treated as a renewable resource. and not as a mine which will be exhausted.

Developing strategies are all well and good but action is what achieves results.


See Andrew's full report here