How the NFU is tackling the HGV driver shortage

Simon Smith on farm December 2018_62186

NFU Sugar board vice-chair Simon Smith explains how the NFU is working to combat the shortage of HGV drivers going into the 2021/22 campaign.

We are all aware of the shortage of HGV drivers at present, an issue that NFU Sugar is working on with the wider industry to find urgent solutions to.

According to the Road Haulage Association, there is a shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK – these shortages are affecting my business now, along with many hauliers who are struggling to retain or recruit drivers ahead of the campaign. LimeX deliveries and many other inputs are struggling to reach the farm gate at a vital time, combined with the struggle of getting produce off farm once it has been harvested.

Despite this, there are thousands of prospective drivers currently waiting to take their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing HGV drivers have left the UK due to Brexit and the pandemic. The government has announced that the B+E trailer test will be abolished and this will put 30,000 examiner hours back into the system to help tackle the backlog of HGV tests that bult up during lockdown, although it is hard to ignore the road safety risk that the abolishment may cause and best practice will continue to get training from private providers.

Key asks

NFU is actively lobbying government for an urgent solution to the critical shortage of labour in agriculture. We are asking for:

  • The introduction of a 12-month Covid-19 Recovery Visa, which would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles, such as HGV drivers, as a short-term response to labour shortages.
  • Commitment to a permanent, revised and expanded Seasonal Worker Scheme for UK horticulture to ensure it is flexible and large enough to meet the industry’s workforce needs.
  • An urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care.

NFU Sugar is working closely with British Sugar to put in place mitigation and advice for growers to help the beet sector cope with this unprecedented challenge. You have seen a joint message from us advising of the actions growers should take and detailing the steps British Sugar has committed to. We know there is more that will need to be done and will continue to make sure British Sugar recognises the logistics challenges facing the sector and takes the steps needed, alongside growers playing their part.

Tractor and trailer best practice

I believe it is very likely that more growers will have to rely on their own tractors and trailers for transporting beet to the factory this campaign because of the national shortage of HGV drivers. NFU Sugar and British Sugar have produced a guide for growers delivering beet via tractor and trailer, detailing all you need to know.

I’d also like to remind growers of the importance of making sure that machinery is correctly matched and maintenance schedules are followed, including regular checks of brakes and hitch mechanisms.

Important things to check include:

  • Make sure tractors and trailers are maintained according to manufacturers’ schedules and records kept.
  • Check your insurance covers you for additional transport work.
  • Ensure that tractor and trailer lights are working correctly and are clean.
  • Ensure cab windows and mirrors are clean and intact.
  • Regularly check trailer hitch eyes for wear.
  • Make sure flashing orange beacons are fitted and used when legally required.
  • Keep trailer loads within manufacturers’ capacity ratings.
  • Pull in when safe to do so, to let following traffic overtake.
  • Ensure tractor drivers watch out for impatient drivers trying to overtake when tractors slow down to turn right into fields and farm tracks.
  • Plan transport routes carefully to avoid congested roads and peak traffic times when possible.
  • Make sure tractors are correctly matched to trailer weights and have compatible braking systems and comply with the complex laws governing tractor and trailer weights, distances travelled, axle combinations, braking systems and speed limits.
  • Provide tractor drivers with training on farm equipment and maintenance schedules.
  • Make sure tractor seat belts are in good condition and used by drivers.
  • Make sure drivers take regular breaks to avoid fatigue.
  • Instruct tractor drivers not to use mobile phones while driving.

Stuart Roberts and Sugar haulage_59414

Farm Vehicle Health Check

The NFU has a produced a Farm Vehicle Health Check to help users of farm equipment comply with the law. It includes detailed information and a safety check list to record inspections for tractors and trailers.

Operator License rules

Operator license rules control the use of goods vehicles on the UK’s roads to help ensure public safety. In general terms these rules apply to all goods vehicles over 3.5t maximum gross weight. Agricultural tractors are exempt from operator license rules when transporting outputs up to a maximum distance of 15 miles from farm, after which the rules do apply. More information is available in NFU Business Guide 113.

Red Diesel

Agricultural tractors are permitted to use red diesel for purposes connected to agriculture. If a tractor is transporting goods in circumstances where an operator license is required, HMRC may take the view that the transport is no longer integral to an agricultural operation and the use of red diesel is therefore no longer permissible. More advice on the use of red diesel is available in NFU Business Guide 101.

Tachograph rules

There is an exemption for agricultural tractors and trailers from tachograph rules up to a radius from base of 100km. More information on the rules is available in NFU guide 114.

Driver fatigue

Drivers of agricultural products are exempt from many of the working hours rules that cover HGV drivers within a radius of 100km from base (more information is available in NFU Business Guide 113). But it is vital that all drivers have sufficient and adequate rest away from work to help ensure their safety and the safety of other road users as fatigue is a big contributory factor in many road accidents.

If in doubt about using tractors and trailers on the road ring CallFirst on 0370 845 8458 for information and advice.

More on this story

Read more about NFU action on this matter here.

Write to your MP to inform them of how the shortage of labour is affecting your business today by clicking here.