Business Farming

Friday 29 August 2014

Dairy farms 'need 5,000 staff to hit Food Harvest 2020 target'

Declan O'Brien

Published 23/01/2013 | 06:00

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Irish dairy farms will need an additional 4,000 or 5,000 trained staff if the goals set out in Food Harvest 2020 are to be achieved.

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Well-known Cork dairy farmer Michael Murphy said there is a looming skills shortage in the dairy sector which needs to be addressed.

Mr Murphy, who has dairy interests in Ireland, New Zealand, the USA and Chile, said that between 2,000 and 3,000 people were currently employed on dairy farms.

But he maintained that this figure would need to rise to between 6,000 and 7,000 if the target of a 50pc growth in milk production by the end of the decade was to be realised.

Speaking at the Positive Farmers Conference in Limerick, Mr Murphy warned that suitable trained workers were not "on the shelf".

While he accepted that the new Teagasc dairy management course in Clonakilty would deliver the right calibre of staff, he warned there were not enough "people in the pipeline".

He told delegates at the conference that a shortage of trained labour could be a serious constraint to expansion of dairy output in years to come.

When hiring staff, Mr Murphy said farmers should interview applicants two or three times and have their spouse or partner sit in on the final interview.

Attributes such as integrity and good character should be prioritised over skills, experience or qualifications, he added.

"Always go for positive, open people; the type of people you'd want around the farm and your children," Mr Murphy said.

On the issue of farmers choosing to convert their businesses to limited companies, Mr Murphy said the correct governance structure should be put in place where possible and external directors – non-family members – should be brought on to a company's board.

He said older people with a background in business management would be ideal candidates. As well as providing the entity with a more professional structure, Mr Murphy said outside directors would be more likely to ask awkward questions when it came to budgets and performance, and would also bring more clarity on investments.

Mr Murphy predicted the dairy sector would achieve the 50pc growth target, but cautioned farmers not to overborrow and to allow for volatility in milk and input prices.

On farm management, he said cow fertility and grassland management were the primary drivers of profitability and he questioned why more farmers had not adopted crossbreeding.

Wicklow-based dairy farmer John Leeson advised farmers who intended to expand significantly to be sure to allow extra time and money for planning issues if additional farm buildings would be needed. He said planning for buildings on a new farm being developed by Mr Leeson outside Kilkenny city had taken over seven months and cost €70,000.

Mr Leeson said a 15pc contingency fund should be built into every 'start up' budget.

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