Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Comment: What's wrong when the announcement of 6,000 jobs excites no one?

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

It's crazy really - if 6,000 jobs were announced in any other sector every minister and Government body would be elbowing their way into a picture and claiming the credit.

But this week Teagasc announced that the dairy sector in Ireland needs 6,000 new entrants if it's to continue growing. There was hardly a word about it in the mainstream media and you'd have to wonder why.

Surely any industry or sector that says it is going to grow so much in the next few years that it will need extra workers is a great news story, yet this revelation is seen as a serious problem as there simply aren't the number of young people going through agricultural colleges or coming into the industry to meet the labour demand.

Has farming such a negative image that so few want to work in it? Or is it perceived as 'too hard' a life? Or one that you can't make a decent living from? Or has the wrong PR been sent out - that filling 6,000 jobs is an issue? If Enterprise Ireland was announcing that the IT industry needed 6,000 graduates it sure as hell wouldn't be seeing it as a problem.

It beggars belief really as the income figures all point towards dairying as the best sector within farming to earn a decent living. Dairy farmers incomes were down last year, but even with this they were still stronger than any other farming sector and at over €50,000, on average, that's not a bad wage at all.

It would seem that farming and the dairy sector, in particular, has a serious PR challenge on its hands. Not only must it convince people that farming presents a very attractive lifestyle, and it does, but it must come up with ways to attract more people into the industry. The country's main processors have invested millions in upgrading facilities and are reliant on farmers for the sector's viability.

The whole area of partnerships and share milking must be developed, to allow new entrants a greater role than just being an employee. The nation's psyche around land and holding on to it, must change too to allow more landless new entrants greater access to land and the opportunity to farm. If we want the sector to grow and develop it must encourage and embrace as many people as possible to join it.

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