Farmers are voicing major concerns over a labour shortage during the busy spring calving season, as a mammoth dairy expansion moves two years ahead of targets.
The State’s largest farmer-owned dairy co-operative Dairygold revealed a quarter of its milk suppliers had signalled labour as a major obstacle to their future plans with more than 530 workers needed.
The in-depth analysis was carried out amid concerns that farmer burnout could derail growth in the expanding dairy sector.
Teagasc research officer Paidi Kelly said the addition of 350,000 cows following the scrapping of milk quotas had created a huge amount of extra work on farms.
It is estimated that more than 6,000 people will need to enter the industry by 2025 as cow numbers soar from 1.4 million to 1.6 million, and the milk pool hits 8.3 billion litres.
A major milking skills programme is being rolled out to try to train potential part-time workers for the dairy sector after a pilot run in the south-east successfully recruited jobseekers, cattle and beef farmers and a number of women to learn the necessary skills.
Padraig Madden, operations manager with Farm Relief Services (FRS) Network, said it would have its biggest ever numbers of employees on farms this spring at more than 1,300, with a waiting list building for peak calving time.
“It is going to be a very serious spring this year,” he warned, with “huge pressure” for the spring months when the bulk of calves will be born.
FRS has experienced strong interest in its free-of-charge four-week milking course which is being rolled out across the country.
“We have experienced a growth in demand of 15 to 20pc for the last three years, year on year, and we expect it again this year.
“The pressure is on; there are already people looking for operators,” he said.
Mr Madden said a person could hope to earn up to €8,000 working in relief milking, rearing calves and other farm work.
He said the network was willing to enrol applicants with no experience on the courses as long as they displayed a good attitude.
In addition, FRS has travelled to New Zealand to promote an exchange programme to try to bring over young farmers to help alleviate the labour issue and provide them with experience.
FRS is hoping to train up to 70 people next year. “We’re growing but the demand is growing faster,” he added.
The rapid rate of expansion was also highlighted at the recent Teagasc National Dairy Conference with statistics showing it is already well ahead of projected estimates, with a survey by dairy processor Glanbia predicting milk growth of 30pc by 2020.
Mr Kelly agreed that it was possible actual growth could far exceed predictions.
“My worry would be that people would be over optimistic in terms of what they can do themselves.
“It is false economy to work yourself so hard that you are exhausted and the performance of the farm suffers.”
Source: Farm Ireland