The People in Dairy Report published by Teagasc in June is an excellent report. Above all else, it is a frank assessment of the current situation. Concrete follow up on its recommendations is an absolute imperative and initiatives targeting social welfare recipients are welcome. This report cannot be allowed to gather dust, like so many others.
The Teagasc report outlines the fast-paced change occurring at farm level in recent years. Dairy cow numbers have increased by 327,000 since 2010 to over 1.35 million. Furthermore, the proportion of dairy cows in herds of 100 cows or more increased from 13% in 2005 to 47% in 2015.
The estimate contained in the report is that from now until 2025 there will be a requirement at farm level for an additional 2,315 full time equivalents and 3,958 to sustain regeneration, with the average dairy farmer 58 years of age.
Dairy farming is a rewarding, sustainable and family friendly occupation. However, a lot can be done to make dairy farming a better career option for potential farmers, farm managers and employees. The People in Dairy Report calls for a national promotion programme to help dispel negative perceptions around farming as a career choice. The sector also needs to re-evaluate its approach to training and education including current internship programmes. Career pathways must be fostered where appropriate for employees to progress from staff to business owners. In addition, individual farmers must be supported to become good employees, up to speed on human resource and communication skills.
Seasonality is a distinct challenge. There will always be a peak in demand with tailored solutions needed to cope with the busy calving and breeding seasons.
There is also an important role for the Department of Agriculture and Minister Creed. Regulations related to international exchange programmes, work permits and social welfare must be addressed to maximise the supply of skilled labour.
The final recommendation in the People for Dairy Report calls for a coordinated industry approach involving the key stakeholders including the Department of Agriculture, Teagasc, farming organisations, FRS and co-ops.
Food Wise 2025 recognises that the agri food sector will only achieve its full growth potential if it can address the skills needs within the industry. The Minister has an important responsibility in facilitating a collective approach to the critical shortage of labour, with a mix of structural, educational and policy solutions needed to ensure the sustainable growth of the Irish dairy industry.
By Eamonn Farrell
Agri Food Policy Executive
29 Jan 2021