The days when dairy farmers could call on a hidden workforce are well and truly gone
Food Wise 2025 maps out a 10-year vision for the Irish agri-food industry. The report identifies key areas such as sustainability, human capital, competitiveness, market development and innovation to drive growth opportunities in the years up to 2025.
Under the 'human capital' banner, the availability of labour and skill needs at farm level has been identified by a number of stakeholders as a major challenge for the industry to overcome.
During the Celtic Tiger years building sites were full of farm operatives, farm managers, even farmers as the attractive pay packets, regular hours and bank holidays proved more attractive than a 60-hour week on the farm.
Today in major towns and cities around the country the hard hats and high vis vests are back at service station deli counters; this is bad news for Irish farmers and the agri-food industry in general.
Initial studies carried out by Teagasc are predicting over 6,000 people will be needed to enter the dairy industry over the next nine years to replace retiring farmers and to meet the labour demands of larger scale dairy farms. The American dairy farmers have Mexicans, the New Zealanders have Filipinos - where are Irish farm workers going to come from?
In the past, a hidden work force was called upon to pull out the stops when help was needed on farm. Spouses, children, parents, siblings, neighbours and even visitors were called upon to lend a hand for TB testing, moving or dosing cattle, sheep shearing and stacking bales.
These days are well and truly gone. The onset of J1 visas, summer colleges and vacations abroad are good excuses for the teenagers to skip farm work. Farmer spouses generally have their own careers and the rest are simply too busy to lend a hand.
The historical small size of Irish farms has ensured Irish farmers have little or no experience of employing and retaining farm labour.