Milk Brady: How to manage stress levels as labour shortages begin to bite
Spring is a very stressful time for most farmers. Dairy and suckler beef farmers are burning the midnight oil with compact calving patterns in the recommended systems of production. Tillage farmers avail of every available hour to tend to winter crops and plant spring crops.
Long hours and lack of sleep are par for the course for many farmers in spring - some wear this like a badge of honour, but others buckle under the stress. In 2018, the stress and pressure of the wet, late spring was compounded when followed by a severe drought and the threat of a fodder crisis.
Even though it was a good year financially for most farmers, the additional workload from spring right through the summer pushed many farmers to the limit - and some beyond.
The challenges in spring 2019 are different. Thankfully, the weather has been better; however, with an unemployment rate of 5.6pc, our country is near full employment and getting additional help to work on farms is at crisis point.
The lack of farm help is particularly acute on dairy farms. More fertile cows have herds meeting the target of calving 90pc of the herd in just six weeks. This creates a six-week period with a massive workload calving cows, milking cows, feeding calves, spreading fertiliser and on-off grazing where cows alternate between grazing outdoors and feeding indoors, depending on weather and ground conditions.
Many dairy farm businesses with expansion plans that factored in more labour as cow numbers increased are now struggling to get this labour. The bank loan is drawn, the money is spent on the new milk parlour and pollution compliant housing facilities, but the increased cow numbers need to stay to repay the bank loan. This conundrum is causing stress levels to skyrocket on some dairy farms.
Yes, at macro level the Government has introduced a pilot scheme for increased Employment Work Permits to employ non-Eu labour. Farm relief and other recruitment firms have conducted roadshows and recruitment drives abroad to try and attract more labour to work on farms.
The agricultural colleges, institutes of technology and universities have placed students, but all these initiatives have not as yet had the desired effect on the ground. So what can farmers do immediately to minimise spring stress levels?