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New plans unveiled to address shortage of workers in dairy sector


Dairy cows in lush pasture with blue ocean in background

Dairy cows in lush pasture with blue ocean in background


The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed has announced a new action plan which aims to address a series of labour and human capital issues facing the dairy sector.

It comes following a recent report which outlined the need for approximately 6,000 new entrants over the next decade to replace retirees and meet the requirements of expanding herds.

That report was clear that the sector would face a severe shortage of labour if measures were not put in place to meet this level of demand.

Among the measures outlined in the ‘People in Dairy Action Plan’ announced today are a roll out nationwide of an initiative which targets individuals on the live register, women in agriculture and dry stock farmers as perspective dairy farm workers.

Enhanced efforts at recruiting labour from within the European Economic Area (EEA)where employment permits are not required is planned as well as the encouragement and facilitation of workers from New Zealand to work in Ireland for one or more periods.

The plan also highlights that one of the biggest factors in attracting and retaining people is that dairy farms must be desirable places to work.

It says information and training needs to be made available to farmers in relation to good HR practice and legal requirements, good management practices and having the right facilities for employees.

Further a new training and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme for dairy farmers and employees needs to be developed and made widely available.

Such a programme will help retain existing people and attract new people, allowing them to work more efficiently and effectively and help to equip people with the skills to progress within the sector.

“Stepping Up” and “Stepping Back”

The plan also suggests that new succession pathways to dairy farming be created.

Teagasc has piloted a ‘Dairy Step Up’ initiative targeted at experienced dairy employees who are keen to take the step into owning their own farming business via partnerships, share farming or leasing.

While a “Stepping Back” programme, targeted at farmers who are planning to reduce their active role in dairy farming, that may or may not have a family successor, is also needed.

The plan highlights that succession is a very sensitive and personal subject, and leasing / joint ventures carry financial risk.

However, it says that given that some 4,000 dairy farmers are likely to ‘retire’ or at least step back from farming over the next eight years, more effort is needed in this area and a co-ordinated campaign is required to better inform all concerned about the modes of entry and progression in the sector as well as modes of exit/retirement for older dairy farmers.

Finally the report says a sustained multifaceted campaign is needed to change the perception of dairy farming from one of long hours, physically demanding work and poor remuneration to that of a modern, high-tech industry with career opportunities and advancement possibilities at many levels, embracing good working conditions, and with good earning potential for both employees and owners.

Minister Creed said, “When implemented, the actions will also help to improve other aspects of Irish dairy farms, such as performance and profitability, but also health and safety – a key concern of mine”.

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