‘The Irish dairy sector is suffering acute labour shortages’

The problem of labour shortages on farms in the Republic of Ireland is primarily affecting the dairy sector, according to the Director of Teagasc, Gerry Boyle.

“It is pretty much an exclusively dairy phenomenon. It is the seasonal demand, particularly the spring-calving systems. It’s an acute demand – compact calving and so on.

“Obviously it is more difficult to hire people if you only need them for a short period as well,” Boyle said.

The problem really came to a head earlier this spring, after a period of expansion following the abolition of quotas in 2015, he added.

It is purely an expansion-driven issue. If you were milking 100 cows prior to the quota being lifted and you go up to 150, then that’s a whole new ball game; even going from 50 to 100.

“While a lot of farms have suckler cows, they don’t take the same labour requirement as dairy cows,” Boyle said.

The rapid shift in the increased number of cows to be milked has led to this lack of labour supply arising, he said.

Is labour supply underestimated?

Boyle admitted that even Teagasc itself may not have fully appreciated the value of labour supply prior to the expansion period in the post-quota era.

“It is a question now of trying to catch up. It’s not everyone you can bring into a milking system and say ‘here; milk those cows’.

Teagasc can fill the training requirement easily enough, but the sourcing of the extra labour is going to be a big challenge.

“Everybody talks about getting foreign labour and there may be an opportunity there. But I think that we may have to be a bit more creative,” he said.

The Director of Teagasc believes that livestock farmers, who may have time on their hands, could provide a valuable source of labour.

“We could try and target those and convince them that there is an opportunity there; maybe not working as employees, but providing services,” he said.