VEGA News Item

Immigrant Farmworkers Save British Farming - 06/05/2010

Bonuses Promised A New for High Standards of Animal Welfare

1.  In a move that could stabilize the beleaguered dairy industry “dairy farmers are to be rewarded for maintaining healthy herds for the first time under a new payment method that offers bonuses for high standards of welfare.” The scheme, now launched by Marks and Spencer, the retailer agrees to pay “a fair price” to producers “which reflects production costs as well as the retail price of milk, and provides incentives for improving animal living conditions” (The Guardian, 24/4/10).

2.  Milk is one of the top-selling items of food and drink in the UK, with more than 180 million pints consumed a week. “But the industry had been hard hit, with profits squeezed by retailers, which have paid them only a small premium. A supermarket ombudsman demanded by the National Farmers’ Union – delayed until after the election – could ease this situation,” states the Guardian.

3.  The “new” scheme from Marks and Spencer, called Milk Pledge Plus, offers a price based on a formula that takes into account the Marks and Spencer retail milk price. In addition the retailer will pay farmers agreed bonuses based on the objectives of a plan that aims to ensure “high standards of animal welfare, health, and sustainability.” To create a clear set of objectives for its farmers to achieve and be measured against, Marks and Spencer has teamed up with the Bristol vet school (part of Bristol University), which will monitor the scheme “to ensure that farmers make continuous improvements to animal health and welfare.”

4.  Paul Willgoss, Marks and Spencer head of technology, says: “Our new milk scheme will not only continue to give farmers greater security, but will also incentivise them to have the highest levels of health and welfare, so that our customers can enjoy our milk safe in the knowledge that it comes from farms with the highest standards.” Mark Taylor, group milk production director of Dairy Crest – a leading supplier to Marks and Spencer and supplies 18% of total UK milk consumption – says: “This is genuinely groundbreaking. Farmers are being given the opportunity to maximize their profit, and if they all hit the targets they can achieve a better milk price.” Noting that Marks and Spencer was not one of the major retailers of milk in the UK, Mark Taylor commented that Marks and Spencer “had the scope to be innovative.”

5.  The Guardian concludes with its comment that “the scheme was devised in close consultation with farmers, who welcomed the move. Richard Brook, an Marks and Spencer dairy farmer in Chichester, West Sussex, says: “Having the reassurance that we will be rewarded for our investment in these areas is a huge step forwards and something we are very excited about.”

6.  While the Guardian on 24th April was working through old material that has engaged animal welfarists and environmentalists, including the RSPCA, organics, and Bristol Veterinary School and its students for some years, with research papers and results published in reputable scientific journals, The Times of the same date repeated more evidence of the sickness in Britain’s farming and in rural affairs. “British workers have long turned up their noses at the toil and low status of picking fruit, vegetables, or flowers;” now it seems that disenchantment with the land is deterring many from skilled farm jobs, including in its list of unfitness for purpose and unsustainability these statistics on field work, which are further illustrated in our database and on our website – and highly topical as the debate and results of a General Election and local contests are declared, and the possibilities of further general elections or even referendums in the near future.

Skills at a Premium – No Joy in Muck Raking

7.  The relevant data are, expressed as skill shortages in UK agriculture and land based industries (percentage of shortages; vacancies in brackets

Farm managers 70% (98)   Veterinarians 34% (300)

Farm workers 63% (359)    Agricultural machinery drivers 32% (132)

Farmers 62% (590)              Agricultural and fishing trades 21% (572)

(The source of this information, is based on a survey done in spring 2007 and collated by Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for environmental and land-based industries).

8.  The Times pins its story on Rey Gavila and Lito Gonzales, who work for 11 months of the year 6,500 miles away from their home in the Philippines milking dairy cows in the South of England. They get a salary “not too far behind that of their President back home and 5 times more than a teacher there.” William Hickson, their boss, who farms 1600 acres (650 hectares) near Deal on the Kent coast is “delighted with his team.” He says: “People are saying immigration is an election issue, and it may be for some people, but I can say that without them we’d be lost.” (An influx of New Zealanders and South Africans may be required to help with sheep shearing later in the year; income from the wool barely pays enough for this job to be done by local labor).

9.  The Filipinos earn enough for each to send home £700.00 a month – worth about 48,000 pesos in the Philippines, where the President earns about 57,000 pesos and a teacher 9,000. “The men are clearly pleased with their lot and proudly show off their living quarters. Each has a mobile home with kitchen and shower, TV, and use of a laptop – where most days they can speak to their wives and children, using the internet. They are among a vanguard of 60 Filipinos who have been recruited and given visas to fill vacancies on farms throughout the country,” explains the Times

10.  This is powerful evidence of the disenchantment with the land that is deterring many from skilled farm jobs. “Employers report that almost a third of vacancies are hard to fill, from vets to crop managers, soil scientists, plant breeders, food technologists, growers, stockmen, and tractor drivers,” says Mr Hickson, who “has” even had trouble finding a school-leaver to train as an apprentice. Many are interested in learning to drive combine harvesters and tractors, but few are keen on looking after his pedigree Jersey cattle,” adds the Times. (Pedigree cows yield very little of commercial dairy-milk in the UK. It is esteemed by some for its creaminess and high-fat content, but shunned by many in the dairy business, who are already burdened with disposals of surplus fat. The calves (bobbies) are hardly worth killing in the UK as sources of veal and the old cows’ (barrenners’) meat is regarded as beef suitable only for manufacturing or pet-food.

11.  Research by Lantra, a skills council for environmental and land-based industries, has forecast that 60,000 new entrants are needed in agriculture in the next decade to maintain food supplies. The urgency is underlined by UN forecasts that food production must rise by at least 50% by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth. Although British policies concentrate on reducing wastage Britain urgently needs to tackle it by dietary reform to relieve the pressure on wastefully and excessive demands on its land – now increasing in value at a great rate for more profitable purposes, eg housing and production of biofuels and other sources of green energy.

12.  The Times observes: “The UK industry no longer relies on casual laborers with a fork to spread muck. Today they need to work with precision machinery and computers, identify diseases in plants and animals and know how to treat them. They must understand how to look after the land in the greenest way, cope with the red tape for cash handouts, keep meticulous records on animal movements and ensure livestock can be tracked from farm to plate. More than 50% of farm jobs require at least 2 years’ training, but farmers such as Mr Hickson have no idea where to find these young people.”

13.  Mr Hickson explains: “It is not that we haven’t tried…… finding locals. Young lads are difficult and want to go on the beer all night with their mates, but we have to be up to start milking at 5.30am….For us, reliability is better than ability. We can train them to be able, but they have to come with the right frame of mind.

14.  Mr Gavila, 48, arrived 3 years ago. He was joined last year by Mr Gonzales, 34. Both speak good English and are qualified in animal science. They talk to the cattle in Filipino, but whistle to them to round them up for milking. The story is full of lessons in farming policies, but is receiving too little attention in matters that deserve consideration and careful discussion such as has been prompted by our motto Grow Food, not Feed and solutions exemplified by our Portfolio of Eating Plans to set the farm-to-plate policies for Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming. Highly mechanized dairy-farming with sanitized cows in zero-grazed and feed-lot conditions fulfil few of the conditions consumers expect of the milk of human kindness.


Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008