At the Teagasc National Dairy Conference 2023, held on 29 November, Teagasc research officer Dr Marion Breecher spoke about getting to grips with labour challenges on dairy farms.

“There is a total decrease of the number of people working in agriculture. This has led to a 30% reduction in agriculture's share of total employment in industrialised countries,” said Marian.

In many of those industrialised countries, farm expansion has increased the demand for non-family workforce and there has been a decrease in the availability of family members due to alternative employment options.

Competition for skilled workers

According to Marian, globally and nationally, we are seeing an overall skills shortage.

“In Ireland, there is a total of seven industries along with agriculture that are experiencing skills shortages. This is likely to be a consistent challenge in the coming years.

"Agriculture is not alone in facing a labour and skills shortage, which means we will have to work a bit harder, as we are in competition with other sectors in Ireland and across the world,” Marion explained.

Looking at the skills required for farming and having adapted research being undertaken by dairy Australia, Marian adapted it for an Irish context.

“Farming requires over 120 skills; we can’t expect people coming into our business to have all of these skills as well,” she said.

In terms of attracting more people into the business and farming, Marion highlighted five strategies to improve labour efficiency: farm system, practices and technologies, work organisation, facilities and outsourcing.

“Farmers have indicated that they would desire a 55-hour working week, they would like to take two weeks holidays in the year and a day off every week,” said Marion.

Labour-efficient farm

Having a labour-efficient farm and reducing the number of hours per cow can affect the profitability of the farm enterprise.

“Reducing our overall labour demand combined with having good practices, facilities, technologies and outsourcing can make your workplace a more attractive place, which can be a benefit in terms of attracting people to work on the farm.

"We have seen the positive impact that good work organisation can result in a shorter working day, shorter working week and earlier finish times.

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"Having been labour efficient in terms of reducing hours per cow in that February to June period can overall have a positive effect on profitability,” said Marion.

Farmer view

When it comes to sourcing labour, dairy farmer Brendan Joyce, Co Kilkenny, said: “Be prepared to look outside of the box, ask in your area is there anyone willing to work on the farm and help out. Working on a dairy farm is probably more attractive than what people think.”

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