Overseas workers targeted to solve dairy labour shortage

Irish dairy farmers have been urged to assess other opportunities, such as bringing in overseas labour, to solve the impending shortage of workers facing the sector.

Over the next decade, Teagasc predicts that Irish dairy farmers will need to employ 3,000 additional people.

Teagasc’s Prof. Gerry Boyle said much of this requirement comes from an expanded national dairy herd.

“We did an exercise recently looking at the additional cow numbers on Irish farms and it showed that 50% of herds now have more than 100 cows – that’s a dramatic change in just four years.

“And that’s really where the labour requirement is coming from. We reckon, over the next 10 years, we will probably need 3,000 additional employees,” he said.

Speaking at today’s ‘Managing Labour on your Dairy Farm’ conference, the Teagasc director said: “There are a number of potential sources, provided the conditions are right. We are hoping that it will be like any other source of employment, in that there will be a minimum skills requirement.

“That’s really where the difficulty is.

“From Teagasc’s perspective, our role is to train the operatives and we are certainly doing that in our agricultural colleges. But, we are going to have to look at putting short-term, intensive courses in place,” he said.

Boyle continued to say that if the Irish dairy sector wants to bring in more labour, it may have to look outside of the country.

We are looking at the possibility of arrangements with New Zealand, for example. It’s the other side of the world and our summer is their winter and that might be attractive to younger people.

“We are also looking at trying to develop collaborations with agricultural colleges across Europe for the placement of students in Ireland. We send a lot of students outside of Ireland, but very few come here.”

Boyle added that both of these solutions are feasible and practical.

However, he said, it may not be practical to expect drystock or suckler farmers to take up part-time employment on dairy farms.

That’s a more difficult nut to crack as dairy is very specialised and also because people who are self-employed, such as drystock farmers, mightn’t want to work for another farmer.

On how the Irish dairy sector can address the labour challenge, Boyle said: “I think it’s going to have to be across multiple fronts.

“Other countries have faced the same challenge, like New Zealand in particular. They [New Zealanders] had to be creative to attract workers,” he said.