Labour a growing issue for farming as sector becomes more reliant on foreign workers

Skilled machinery workers are being drawn back into the construction sector, resulting in labour shortages for farming contractors
Skilled machinery workers are being drawn back into the construction sector, resulting in labour shortages for farming contractors
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Labour, or the shortage of it, is being cited as a growing issue in the agri sector, a new report states.

According to the report by Genfitt, on performance trends in the Irish agricultural sector, labour was a "big, consistent theme" of the report this year.

It found that labour issues are being felt first hand by farmers as there are not enough people who want to work in the sector with farm businesses forced to look to Poland, Latvia and Brazil to find workers.

The reason cited is more young people are attending secondary education, with less people taking apprenticeships, as more receive third-level education. "No longer is farming a family business, as we see the rise in bigger, more commercial farms."

It also said that at industry level, the challenge is to change the business of farming, making jobs more appealing and giving farmers the skills to manage people better.

"No longer are people willing to work for poor pay, in poor conditions, with long and irregular hours. We need to train farmers in management, coupled with better resource solutions such as shared labour, contracting or automation.

Aurivo Chief Executive Aaron Forde said at the launch of the report that labour is an issue across the sector, as Ireland nears full employment.

Ronan Egan, Genfitt Managing Director, said that the sector must look at how it will attract young people and retain them within the sector.

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IFA President Joe Healy has welcomed the Government report on the review of economic migration policy. The objective of the review was to consider the rationale for the employment permit system where the economy is improving and the labour market is tightening, and to make appropriate recommendations to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

“As we approach full employment, Irish agriculture, especially our labour intensive and expanding sectors such as dairy, horticulture and pigs, have a genuine need of additional labour from outside the EEA (European Economic Area). The introduction by Minister Heather Humphreys of a pilot labour permit scheme for the agriculture sector last May was a positive first step in this regard.”

Joe Healy particularly welcomed the recommendation to modify the 50:50 rule to extend the waiver to include all sole operators in expansion mode and to develop a seasonal employment permit to provide for non-EEA nationals to work here temporarily. Waiving the 50:50 rule would be very beneficial to the dairy sector, while the horticulture sector would benefit from a seasonal scheme similar to the SAWS in the UK or the RSE scheme in New Zealand. .

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