The Times reports on Filipino farm workers Rey Gavila and Lito Gonzales who, for 11 months of the year, work 6,500 miles away from home.
Milking dairy cows in the South of England is giving them a salary not too far behind that of their President back home in the Philippines, and five times more than a teacher there.
William Hickson, their boss, who farms 1,600 acres (650 hectares) near Deal on the Kent coast, is delighted with his team: “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.”
The Filipinos earn enough for each to send home £700 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.
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. 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. Mr Hickson 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.
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 per cent by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth.
The UK industry no longer relies on casual labourers 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 per cent of farm jobs require at least two years training, but farmers such as Mr Hickson have no idea where to find these young people.
“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.”
A chance meeting with Chris Blakeney, managing director of Marden Management, an agricultural management company, persuaded him to hire the Filipinos. Marden was forced to widen the search for qualified workers after advertisements in Jobcentres nationwide for posts with salaries of up to £40,000 failed to attract staff.
On the farm, Mr Gavila, 48, arrived three years ago, and was joined by Mr Gonzales, 34, last year. Both speak good English, are qualified in animal science. They talk to the cattle in Filipino but whistle to round them up for milking.
Source: The Times