Dairy sector to create 6,000 new jobs within a decade
An extra 6,000 people will be needed to work in the expanding dairy farming industry in Ireland over the next nine years, states a new report from Teagasc.
Paidi Kelly, co-author of the ‘People in Dairy Project’ report, said: “There is now a great opportunity to create jobs in rural Ireland. We estimate that, by 2025, there will be 2,000 extra employees on Irish dairy farms and a further 4,000 successors who will come into or return to dairy farming. Up to now, dairy was about the owner- operator. Now, dairy farmers need to think about employing people on a full-time or part-time basis if they want to continue increasing in scale.”
The report, from Teagasc in Moorepark, in Fermoy, outlines actions needed to ensure dairy farming becomes a more professional, competitive and sustainable business that can attract the best into the industry. It highlights promotion of dairy farming as an attractive career, the need for excellent training courses so employers and employees can up-skill, dairy farms as enjoyable places to work, farmers/ employers with a reputation for developing their employees’ career progression, and the promotion of industry excellence.
Mr Kelly identified two particular challenges for dairy farming: attracting people to the industry and making dairy farms better places to work for both farmers and employees.
“We need to attract 2,000 employees to work on farms but need to also attract 4,000 successors — some will be farmers’ children who want to come back into the industry but, also, a very important new story for Irish farming is that we now have and will have much more people from non- farming backgrounds who can build up their skills and go into partnerships with farmers who have no successors.
“It could be that they’d own cows on the farm, they’d be farming in their own right without owning the land. This is a completely new type of arrangement,” said Mr Kelly.
A person doesn’t have to own a farm or be from a farming background to have a successful career in dairy farming, the report says.
It anticipates that collaborative farming models will continue to become more popular and that a clear pathway from farm assistant to farm business owner will emerge, in turn attracting motivated and skilled people to the industry.
“These types of partnership arrangements offer a new opportunity and will play a huge role in the next ten years,” said Mr Kelly.
The Teagasc report highlights the need for a national programme to promote the range of opportunities available in dairy farming and to dispel myths that farming careers are low-skilled and poorly remunerated.
Mr Kelly said: “A lot of people might think that farm jobs are poorly paid and involve a lot of physical work, but a newly-qualified farm manager could earn in the region of €30,000, and a well-trained farm manager with a number of years of experience who is running a farming business could easily earn €40,000-plus. On top of that, it’s now regulated as much as any other job, in terms of working conditions, rosters and starting and finishing times.”
He added: “We must act quickly to put a promotion package together and to support farmers in becoming good employers and ensuring that they offer attractive packages to people.”
There are employment opportunities not only for graduates of herd management, farm management, and dairy business programmes who intend to work full time in farming but also for people in rural areas who want to supple- ment their incomes through part- time dairy farming work. “There would be opportunities for non- dairy farmers or even non farmers to work with dairy farmers on a part- time basis,” said Mr Kelly.
Another challenge is ensuring that farms are enjoyable places to work.
Mr Kelly said: “We need to make dairy farms better places to work for farmers themselves. The average herd size has increased from 54 cows in 2005 to 76 cows in 2016, and farmers are working a lot harder than ten years ago. We need to change the culture on farms; working harder is not sustainable. We need to implement work practices that fit with larger- scale farms to develop the farmyard as an enjoyable place to work and in terms of managing cows efficiently.”
I t was this dramatic change in the structure of Irish dairy farming — the substantial increase in average herd size and the rise in the number of farmers milking more than 100 cows — that prompted the Teagasc report. This change resulted from the abolition, in 2015, of EU milk quotas that had, for 30 years, capped the amount of milk that could be produced on Irish farms.
“Dairy farming is growing faster than predicted, and it is creating new work opportunities that weren’t predicted,” said Mr Kelly.
Another key area highlighted by the report is education and training for dairy industry employment. It says that the industry needs to rethink its attitude to career pathways, training, and accreditation and maintain an integrated model of formal and informal training, including farm placement.
The report says that, in the context of the projected requirements, the numbers of graduates qualifying at Level 6 Dairy Herd Management, Level 7 Professional Diploma in Dairy Farm Management, and Level 8 Dairy Business Degree are totally inadequate.
The report calls for the setting up of a national coordinating organisation to meet the challenge of developing a sound employment base for the dairy industry.
Mr Kelly outlines some of the benefits of being employed in the industry.
“You’ve cheaper living costs working in a rural area, and if you enjoy working outdoors, in nature, and with animals, dairy farming can be a very rewarding career. In the last two years, there are examples of accountants, engineers and other professionals coming back to work on dairy farms, because it’s something they love doing.”
Kevin Twomey, chair of Dairy Stakeholder Committee; Agriculture Michael Creed ; Paidi Kelly, Teagasc, author of the report; and Prof Gerry Boyle, Teagasc director.