Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 8 December 2016

Focusing on your on-farm labour needs

Acknowledging its value to your business is vital

Mary Kinston

Published 07/06/2011 | 05:00

As many farms have expanded in size over the past few years, the requirement for labour has increased, be it in the form of either casual, seasonal or on a permanent basis. Despite output restrictions such as quota, farmers have still found the opportunity to expand.

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The most acute need for hired labour that I come across is currently on dairy farms with more than 100 cows. While family members may step in to fill this void, factors such as ageing parents, lack of interest, off-farm activities, college placements and employment outside the farm often mean that this help is not a sustainable solution.

It is also important to realise that personal issues may also highlight a demand for extra labour, such as ageing owners, a change in personal situations, such as marriage, a growing family, off-farm interests, injury or ill health of the operator.

The issues associated with labour are numerous as this is new territory for most. Most farmers have never -- or rarely -- worked for someone else and often have no concept of what it is like to be an employee. Farmers have also rarely been high enough in any organisation to know how to go about being a good employer.

Other issues stem from the fact that farming is a very hands-on business. This often results in problems associated with the ability to delegate and the fact that farmers tend to fixate on how the job is being done rather than what has to be achieved and what standard is acceptable, irrespective of how the job has been completed.

Underlying both of these issues is the farmer's ability to plan and communicate with the employee that will result in the desired outcome. Managing expectations, motivation, training and time management are areas which can pose challenges and are hugely dependent on the person employed. There are also legal obligations, and suitable recruitment and appraisal processes should all be considered before hiring labour -- but they are often learned after labour has been hired.

Obviously, size, system of the farming operation and cash surplus dictate whether labour is needed or can be afforded.

There has been a notable level of growth in the dairying sector, so the labour issue is of greater importance, especially if this sector is to reach its Food Harvest 2020 target of 50pc growth -- though this might be hindered in the short-term until the abolition of quota in 2015.

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Farm incomes have not kept pace with the cost of living and inputs over the past 20-30 years. This resulted in a growing pressure on farmers to increase efficiency and increase in scale.

So any suggestion that farming is an option for the uneducated, unskilled or unmotivated individual is a foolish opinion. This industry bases its success on a biological system which requires a high standard of skill, ability to plan, monitor, act appropriately and review.

Therefore, skilled labour is required and people should be attracted into this industry as it can provide opportunity, a challenge and a way of life that is difficult to match. However, there is a need to develop more opportunities for highly skilled labour to progress from the role of an employee into a position of actually farming in their own right to encourage young people to continue enter this industry.

Over the next four weeks, we are going to look at some of the key issues with labour on farms.

Indo Farming