A shortage of migrant labour in the UK farming sector could result in an increase in live exports, including to Ireland, it has been reported.

If the UK does not secure agreements on trade and migrant labour with the EU after Brexit, tariffs will likely be cheaper on live animals than processed meats.

That is according to Britain’s National Sheep Association (NSA) Chief Executive, Phil Stocker, who made the comments in an interview with the Farmers Guardian.

He explained that exports of live animals could even be tariff-free, potentially making live shipments more attractive. “There is a higher level of tariff when products are more processed,” Stocker told the publication.

If abattoirs and meat processing plants cannot find workers, rather than cutting up carcasses, we will export whole carcasses, or – worst case scenario – live lambs to Ireland or France.

The chief executive also claimed that “water” would not get in the way of the shipment of live breeding animals, otherwise “there would be an issue transporting animals from the islands to the British mainland”.

Labour shortage

Livestock is not the only area of British farming facing a labour shortage. A recent survey from Britain’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) showed a 17% decline in the number of seasonal workers required for the harvesting of fruit and vegetables this season.

The union’s Horticulture and Potatoes Board Chairman, Ali Capper, attributed this shortage to uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, as well as to a weaker sterling.

Meanwhile, on home shores, a report from Teagasc suggested the dairy sector needed an additional 6,000 people to enter dairying by 2025 given the upsurge in dairy cow numbers, which have increased by 327,000 since 2010. By contrast, dairy farmer numbers have remained static.

There are about 170 graduates qualifying with Level 6 advanced programmes in Dairy Herd Management every year, according to the report, which said this was “totally inadequate”.