Opinion

Employing non-EU labour within the dairy sector is a road to nowhere

It’s preposterous that Irish milk producers should be calling for non-EU labour to make up the manpower shortages now apparent on their farms.

This approach could be deemed as being synonymous with the belief that our dairy farmers are not prepared to pay local people a decent day’s pay.

It also strikes me that many milk producers, who went down the expansion route, did not factor in the real cost of the additional labour they would need as they developed their businesses.

But, at least we now know there is an acute labour shortage on Irish dairy farms. Possible solutions might include the Government making available a 50% grant on robotic milking systems. Mind you, I don’t think this option is a runner.

However, Government does have a role to play in making a career within the dairy sector more attractive to young people in this country. And, by this, I don’t mean dairy farming per se.  

As every dairy farmer knows there is a lot more to milking cows than simply putting on the clusters. Making sure antibiotic-tainted milk doesn’t get into the food chain is just one of the challenges facing the operator every time he or she starts up the plant.

Keeping out colostrum is another, as is identifying cows with mastitis. And then there is the know-how required to recognise if a cow is down on milk and why this might be the case.

Beyond the milking parlour there is the myriad other challenges that confront dairy farmers every time they put on their overalls. Recognising cows in heat, rearing calves in the most efficient way possible and recognising if an animal is not well as early as possible are all required skills when it comes to determining the success of every dairy farming enterprise.

Given the fast rate of progress now apparent within the Irish milk sector, I believe that dairy farmers should have access to people with the specific qualifications that will allow them carry out the above-mentioned tasks to the highest possible standard.

And, as a means of making this happen, Government should be actively pushing the development and availability of bespoke dairy technology courses on a country-wide basis.

What’s more, employment grants should be made available to dairy farmers, which would allow them take on people that are actually qualified to carry out the jobs that need to be done to the highest possible standard.

Employers in other sectors will readily admit that securing staff with the proper training and experience is the hardest challenge they face. So why should Irish dairy farming be any different in this regard?

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