Focusing on your on-farm labour needs
Acknowledging its value to your business is vital
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.
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.