Labour shortage worry for Irish calf exporters

Fears have been raised that the impending labour shortage facing the Irish dairy industry could have negative consequences for calf exports.

A recent Teagasc report, titled ‘The People in Dairy Project’, said that Irish dairy industry needs to employ 6,000 new people over the next decade.

It now appears that the exporting sector, particularly calf exporters, are facing the same fate.

Exporters have warned that their sector – which is vital considering the additional calves coming on stream from an expanded dairy herd – is also finding it difficult to source the necessary staff to ensure that their operations run fluidly.

Farmers need only to cast their mind back to 2015 to remember how reduced export activity can have an impact on beef supplies in Ireland.

The product of this reduction is only bearing fruit this year, as an additional 100,000 cattle are expected to come forward for slaughter before the year draws to a close.

Already this year, Irish calf exporters have shipped large numbers of calves to markets such as Holland, Spain and Belgium.

Calf shipments have boomed in 2017, as some 97,926 calves have been exported from Ireland this year – an increase of 29,035 head or 42.1% on 2016 levels.

And, to protect the Irish beef industry in the coming years, it’s vital that Irish exporters continue to ship Holstein Friesian bull calves out of the Irish beef production chain as early as possible.

Seamus Scallan of the Wicklow Cattle Company told AgriLand that his family’s calf exporting business is finding it extremely difficult to find the staff it requires.

“Farm organisations, such as the IFA, really need to push for additional labour and it’s becoming a major problem for exporters,” he said.

On export days, we start feeding calves a 3:00am and, unless we can find the staff we need, it’s going to put the entire sector under pressure.

The Scallan family have been operating the business for the past 45 years in Mooreshill, Arklow, Co. Wicklow and Seamus added that he has never found it so difficult to find staff. He also fears that the situation will only worsen in the coming years.

Scallan suggested that a different approach may be needed to solve the issue and this comes in the form of hiring staff from outside of Ireland and the European Union.

“We really should be able to hire people from Brazil, who are specialised in rearing cattle.

“They are willing to work, have great knowledge of cattle and would fit into Irish systems perfectly,” he said.