The number of people employed on dairy farms in Ireland increased by approximately 41% over a six-year period, according to figures recently released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
In 2010, a total of 2,900 people were directly employed on dairy farms in Ireland; this figure jumped by 1,200 to 4,100 in 2016, the CSO stated.
These figures account for direct dairy farm employment only and exclude farm relief milkers.
On average, these workers account for 0.6 of a labour unit. The CSO considers one labour unit to be 1,800 hours.
This rise in employment in the dairy industry comes as dairy cow numbers increased following the abolition of milk quotas.
“In the six-year period, cow numbers rose by 29% in Connacht and Munster, 36% in Leinster and 25% in Ulster,” Paidi Kelly, a research officer with Teagasc, told AgriLand.
He added that these figures can be deceiving, as a 29% increase accounts for 16,000 cows in Connacht and 190,000 cows in Munster.
The biggest increase in employment has been seen in Munster and Leinster; but, Kelly highlighted that there are a number of obstacles in relation to the availability of labour for the dairy industry.
“Unemployment is at its lowest rate in 10 years, therefore less people are looking for work – demand for labour has gone up at a time when labour supply has gone down,” he said.
‘We’re pretty much at our limit’
In terms of dairy cow numbers, the Teagasc research officer outlined that in 2016 the population stood at 1.35 million head; but this has risen to 1.4 million cows today – equating to a 50,000 cow increase in the last two years.
Acknowledging the increase in cow numbers, Kelly stated that most dairy farmers could manage the increases in the size of their respective herds without extra labour in a lot of cases – giving the example of a farmer increasing from 60 cows to 80 cows.
The data would suggest to me that all extra cows going forward will require new labour; we’re pretty much at our limit.
Continuing, he explained that the number of cows to labour units is almost an impossible ratio to define – because there are so many variables.
Factors such as farm/grazing infrastructure, parlour size and measures such as contract rearing and outsourcing machinery work to contractors can all have a bearing on this ratio.
A person milking 150 cows could literally be doing less work than a person milking 60 cows, depending on what jobs they are doing on the farm and how well the farm is set up; infrastructure is crucial.
He stated that getting a full-time labour unit on the farm is not the only option.
Farmers that are trying to expand – but perhaps are not big enough for two full-time labour units – should consider hiring part-time staff and labour-saving factors like contract rearing.
Concluding, Kelly encouraged all farmers – but in particular anyone employing or planning to employ extra labour on their dairy farm – to attend the upcoming Teagasc International Agricultural Workforce Conference.
The event is set to take place on Tuesday, July 10, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, in Cork. It is scheduled to get underway at 9:00am.
By: Breifne O’Brien