Suffolk: Rural job numbers fall significantly over the last decade

Derek on one of the farm's modern tractors - hugely different from some of the machines he drove whe

Derek on one of the farm's modern tractors - hugely different from some of the machines he drove when he first started work in the 1950s - Credit: Archant

Workers in traditional rural jobs such as farming, hunting, forestry and fishing in Suffolk have fallen by more than 30% over the last decade, new figures have shown.

There were just 6,463 people in the county working in the industry in 2011, compared to 9,587 in 2001, according to the latest census data from the Office for National Statistics.

Across England and Wales, the proportion of workers in the industry has slumped to a record low of 1%, with the number down from 22% in 1841.

Brian Finnerty, National Farmers Union communications advisor for East Anglia, said: “These figures reflect the big changes we have seen in agriculture with consolidation, more contract farming, and farm workers retiring and not being replaced, but the scale of the drop over 10 years is still quite surprising.”

He said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs carried out its own annual census of farms and there was evidence that, nationally, the trend had stabilised and even started to move upwards, with 10,000 more people employed in farming between 2010 and 2011.

The county figures for June 2010 showed there were 8,207 farmers and farm workers on Suffolk farms in 2010, and 12,269 working on Norfolk farms.

He added: “One of the big challenges facing the industry in our region is finding the farmers of tomorrow as a quarter of that workforce is due to retire in the next 10 years.”

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The NFU is part of an initiative called EDGE, which is trying to encourage more young people to consider a career in agriculture and horticulture, and more farmers to consider taking on an apprentice.

The ONS statistics found that since 1841 service sector employment had jumped from 33% of employment to 81%, while manufacturing had fallen from 36% to just 9%.

The figures also showed that the industry with the highest proportion of women workers was public administration, education and health, at 70%, while the one with the lowest proportion was construction, at just 12%.

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: “The rapid migration of the UK manufacturing jobs to low-wage economies over two decades is the long-term legacy of Mrs Thatcher’s period in office. As manufacturing and extraction were the foundation of the UK economy for over a century it is too early to say what the long-term consequences are for prosperity of the UK workforce.

“The majority of workers in advanced economies are now employed in services like education, health, transport, retail and wholesale distribution, communications, hotel and catering, arts, entertainment and leisure, public administration and law enforcement.

“When North Sea oil runs out, how in the long term the UK pays for the necessary imports of energy, food and manufactured goods is still open to question. That is why GMB wants a regional and industrial strategy to revive manufacturing industry.”

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