Irish farms among the most dependent on unpaid farm labour in the EU

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The proportion of unpaid work by family members on Irish farms is among the highest in the EU at about 95pc, according to newly released data by the European Commission.

In terms of the proportion of unpaid working hours, Slovenia, Ireland and Austria take the lead (about 95pc of work is unpaid work by family members), while the proportion is around 50pc in Denmark, the Netherlands and Bulgaria.

There is significantly higher variability in the share of family and paid labour across newer EU Member States due to the predominance of very large farms in many eastern European countries, such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Often these large farms are organised as legal entities (i.e. companies).

With Irish farming so dependent serious concerns have been raised over the future availability of labour.

Approximately 37,700 or 27pc of Irish farmers are over 65 years and 8,200 (6pc) aged under 35. 

In a recent survey, almost half (48pc) of farmer respondents did not have a farming successor identified.

The issue is of particular concern for the dairy sector which saw 1.4 million dairy cows milked in Ireland in 2017, up from 1.05 million in 2010.

Importantly, nearly half of all dairy cows are now milked in herds of >100 cows (as of 2016). The industry has seen a big change in structure as well as scale over a relatively short period of time.

Teagasc research indicates that approximately 6,000 people will need to join Irish dairying between 2016 and 2025.

This demand for people is occurring at a time when the unemployment rate nationally has fallen below 6pc for the first time in a decade with careers on Irish farms in direct competition with other career offerings.

Average family farm income was the highest on record at almost €31,400 in 2017, a 32pc increase on 2016 mostly driven by higher returns on dairy farms.

Online Editors