Dairy sec­tor to cre­ate 6,000 new jobs within a decade

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FOOD & DRINK IRELAND - Ma­jella Flynn

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.

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