Peter Byrne, CEO, and Padraig Madden, Operation Manager with FRS, recently met with Minister Creed to outline our concerns about the labour supply situation for Irish farms.
Below is a summary of the discussions with the Minister and his staff who were very receptive of the presentation and thanked FRS for such a detailed summary of the current situation and their proposals for how, it might be addressed.
FRS will be following up their proposals and meeting with other interested parties addressing what is a very serious problem facing all farmers and dairy farmers in particular.
Irish dairy farming is facing a critical shortage of trained, skilled and adaptable workers to meet the current labour demands from farmers and to meet the ambitious development targets of Food Wise 2025. The need for Human Capital has been identified as one of the limiting factors in the Irish Dairy Industry reaching its full potential.
FRS Farm Relief Services is the single biggest supplier of farm labour in Ireland with almost 40 years’ experience of working in this sector. We have identified that there is a labour supply deficient based on the current spring time demand and although this year we should be fine it is the following years that raise serious concerns, which we have taken active steps to mitigate.
We are proposing that the labour shortage needs an all industry approach and have made a formal proposal to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and Minister Michael Creed to take a lead role in addressing the various factors which FRS have identified as contributing to the present shortage. FRS has also identified some possible solutions and we feel that these need to be addressed by the wider industry.
Many farmers are putting their health and safety at risk while trying to cope with a huge workload particularly in the spring time. It is widely accepted that fatigue is a major contributor to farm accidents and we want to safeguard the supply of labour to support farmers.
Factors leading to current labour shortages:
1. General pick up in the economy, resulting in less unemployed people around to work on farms
2. Competition with other industries that can command a higher wage as it is passed on to the bill payer e.g. construction. Farmer cannot afford to compete.
3. Less people coming from Eastern Europe to work on farms in Ireland, possibly due to their own economies going much better.
4. Lack of any reciprocal arrangement or exchange program with countries like New Zealand and Australia to encourage their students to come to do their placement on Irish farms.
5. Work permit issues for some counties, such as the Philippines and South Africa.
6. Seasonality is a problem, as we will always need more people to work in the busy spring season than during the rest of the year.
7. Unable to guarantee steady year-round employment.
8. Decrease in the number of students in Agri College this year, meaning there are fewer students available to host farmers for the spring with the result these farmers are coming to FRS.
9. Less family farm labour available than ever before.
10. Cultural issue surrounding attractiveness and stability of farm work as a career.
11. No specific training in hands on farming skills other than the one year course in Agricultural College, or very short courses like the milking course where the participant needs to have the basic skills before they attend.
12. Increased demand from dairy farmers as herd size increases past what one man can handle.
Five proposals made by FRS to Minister
1. Exchange Program with New Zealand
New Zealand is a very suitable exchange country to draw farm workers from as their busy season is the opposite of Irelands. Work permits allow them to work on short term work visas. There is a large catchment size within the Agri sector.
FRS propose that the DAFM would work with New Zealand and Irish colleges to develop a mutually beneficial exchange program with emphasis on induction training on a model farm (see details in model farm section), leading to on-farm work experience placement during the busy spring season through FRS in Ireland
2. Model Farm for Skills Training
There is an on-farm skills training gap. FRS feel there is a lack of adequate support for trainees and people who want to get into farming to get the necessary hands on skills required for the job.
FRS proposes the development of a model farm (or farms) to run skills training in order to close the skills gap
3. Agricultural Colleges Internship Programs
Currently agriculture college graduates are returning to work on home farms or are progressing with their studies to degree level. They are not getting adequate skills training to progress to working as dairy relief workers. This is a gap area that needs to be filled and we need to, set up a route way to work on farms through an internship program. FRS proposes that they can provide the link between the student and the work and develop an internship program with colleges.
4. Study on the Supply and Demand Farm Labour
FRS proposes that a study on the Supply and Demand of Farm Labour is conducted. This would need to be an extensive study looking at both medium and long term demands for labour on Irish farms and how this demand can be met.
5. Collaboration among Agri Industry
There needs to be collaboration among the key players in the Agri Industry to support farmers at the farm gate. Labour market factors are forcing the cost of labour upwards, particularly in relation to farm work as the demand is high, but the supply is low as potential workers are taking jobs in other industries e.g. construction. The proposal is to give support back to the farmer in the form of labour supply. This could take the form of funding to support the upskilling through training and the model farm, research and development, and any other innovative approaches.
The FRS proposal is currently with Minister Creed and his Department for review.
If you are interested in becoming an FRS operator please visit www.frsfarmrelief.ie/careers for a list of current vacancies or if you have any comments or suggestions please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.