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Farm Labour


On the 1st June 2016, there were 63,400 people (headcount) working on agricultural holdings. Working occupiers made up 58 per cent of the total workers (split between 17 per cent full-time and 41 per cent part-time). Regular staff accounted for 32 per cent of total workers (of which more were working full-time than part-time). Casual and seasonal workers represented ten per cent of the total.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people working in agriculture decreased by 1,900 (three per cent). This follows similar drops in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The fall in numbers was largely driven by a drop in the number of working occupiers which fell by 1,200 (3.3 per cent). There was also a no decrease in the number of casual and seasonal workers, which dropped by 490 (seven per cent) to 6,350, the lowest figure since 2010.

Looking at longer-term trends, the number of people working on agricultural holdings has fluctuated over the last ten years from a high of 68,400 in 2012 to a low of 63,400 in 2016, the figure for 2016 being the lowest figure since our current records began in 1982. These totals need to be treated with some caution as they include differing trends for full-time and part-time occupiers, and regular employees. Full-time equivalent figures, were they available, might give a different picture. In addition, the drop in numbers of occupiers may be partly due to the fact that, following the addition of the question about non-working occupiers in 2011, not all holdings would have been included in the census samples in the years afterwards and so had the opportunity to respond. This has potentially resulted in an over-count of the number of working individuals and an undercount in the number of non-working individuals, in the years that followed, though the effect of this decreases each year.

Chart : Agricultural labour trends, 2006 to 2016Chart 25 :Agricultural labour trends, 2006 to 2016

The chart above shows that trends for occupiers and regular employees reflect some similarity with the total workforce figures, portraying a gentle decline over the ten year period, with a slightly steeper drop and recovery in the years 2006 to 2010. Compared with 2006, the total number of working occupiers is now 5,400 lower (13 per cent), whilst the number of regular employees is virtually unchanged at 20,400.

In contrast, the number of casual and seasonal workers - largely associated with the soft fruit sector - is up 1,800 or 40 per cent since 2006. Figures on migrant workers, published for the first time this year, show that 430,000 person working days were undertaken in the year to June 2016, down 6.5 per cent on the previous year. On the basis that one full time employee works the equivalent of 1,900 hours per year, this figure equates to around 1,800 people working full time (note however that this is a notional figure rather than a headcount).

The chart below shows, the relative proportions of regular staff. On the 1st June 2016, there were 20,400 regular staff working on agricultural holdings, down 0.9 per cent from the previous year.

One quarter were members of occupiers' families and a further 19 per cent were business partners in the holding. The remaining staff were hired staff (56 per cent), the majority of whom were males. These proportions are similar to those in 2015.

Hired labour costs rose by 0.6 per cent to £381 million in 2016.

Chart : Regular staff, June 2016

Chart 29: Regular staff, June 2016





In 2016, Over half of the total agricultural workforce was located in either Grampian (10,200 or 16 per cent), Highland (9,600 or 15 per cent), Tayside (7,700 or 12 per cent) or Dumfries and Galloway (6,700 or ten per cent). These totals represent the number of people employed or working on 1 June 2016, but do not take into account differing working patterns or seasonal labour.

Chart : Distribution of the workforce by sub-region, June 2016

Workforce by region

The map below illustrates the employment rates by local authority (number of people employed in agriculture as a percentage of people employed in the area), showing highest levels of employment in agriculture in Na h-Eileanan Siar, Orkney and Shetland. In addition, there is also a clear split between local authorities within and outwith the central belt, demonstrating the relative importance of agriculture in terms of employment among these regions.

Map : Agriculture employment rates by local authority, 2016

Agricultural employment by unitary authority



Occupiers and spouses

In terms of the total workforce, occupiers and spouses made up 58 per cent of the total in Scotland. This percentage was lower in areas where agriculture activities that rely more heavily on employed labour (for example, horticulture) were prevalent, such as Tayside (32 per cent), Fife (38 per cent) and Lothian (39 per cent), but higher in areas such as Orkney (70 per cent), Highland (74 per cent), Shetland (82 per cent) and Na h-Eileanan Siar (89 per cent) where less labour intensive agricultural practices tended to prevail.

In 2016, 64 per cent of working occupiers were male. Working male occupiers were more likely to be older, with 36 per cent of male occupiers aged under 55 compared with 41 per cent of female occupiers. It is also evident that the gender profile of occupiers differs between full time (83 per cent male) and part time occupiers (53 per cent male). This data is based solely on actual returns for holdings which returned information on occupier age and gender in 2016.

Chart : Age and gender profile of occupiers

 Chart 24: Age and gender profile of occupiers, June 2016



Standard Labour Requirements (SLR) represent the notional amount of labour required by a holding to carry out all of its agricultural activity and is also used as a measure of farm size. Standard Labour Requirements are derived at an aggregate level for each agricultural activity. The total SLR for each farm is calculated by multiplying its crop areas and livestock numbers by the appropriate SLR coefficients and then summing the results for all agricultural activity on that farm. One SLR equates to 1,900 working hours per year.

The SLR coefficients are based on values agreed in 2010 and have been applied to the 2016 crop areas and livestock units of holdings.

The total SLR for Scotland was 51,500 full time equivalent workers, averaging 0.99 per holding. The SLR full-time equivalent total is only a notional figure, but is unsurprisingly less than the total labour figure, due to the fact that the labour total (63,500 people) is a headcount (i.e. a part-time worker working for a year would equate to less than one SLR).

The chart below shows the share of national SLRs by farm type, providing comparison with Standard Outputs (SO). Cattle & sheep (LFA) holdings accounted for 44 per cent of total SLRs compared to their 27 per cent share of SO. This means that this farm type had a much higher labour requirement in proportion to its total SO.

By contrast, most other farm types, including general cropping, horticulture, poultry, pigs, dairy and cereals holdings had a similar or higher share of Scotland's SO total in comparison to their share of SLRs.

Chart : Distribution of total Standard Outputs and Standard Labour Requirements by farm type, June 2016

Standard outputs and Standard Labour requirements



The chart below shows the geographic distribution of SLRs, in comparison with SOs. Sub-regions with a lower share of SLRs compared to SOs, such as Grampian, Fife and Lothian, had higher proportions of farm types such as general cropping, cereal and horticulture. In a number of cases, sub-regions with a higher share of SLRs compared to SO, such as Highland and Argyll & Bute had a higher proportion of cattle & sheep (LFA) holdings.

Chart : Distribution of total Standard Outputs and Standard Labour Requirements by sub-region, June 2016

SLRs and SOs



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