By Pádraig Hoare
The shortage of qualified farm workers is a concern for the industry’s future, according to the boss of the largest farmer-owned co-operative in the Republic.
Dairygold chief executive Jim Woulfe said one of the “key constraints” on farm expansion for 25% of its members was the lack of available workers.
“It is a barrier to expansion and is an issue. The average age of our supplier is 55 — some people are getting out of an industry at that stage. Farming is still a cohort of an aged population. The problem is acute,” he said.
A Government report on farm labour shortages is due in the coming months, which Mr Woulfe welcomed.
He said the permit issue was one he hoped the report addressed.
Dairygold chairman John O’Gorman said qualified workers from non-EU countries would help the situation on Irish farms.
“The introduction of more qualified and experienced labour is always welcome. However, we also need to educate ourselves as farmers on how to best retain staff and keep them motivated,” he said.
Mr O’Gorman said Dairygold was conscious of safety on farms, which have seen a rise in accidents in recent years across the country.
“All the milk in the world is not as valuable as one life,” he said.
He said Dairygold was Ireland’s first dairy processor to successfully pioneer the widespread application of lean techniques at farm level through its Leanfarm programme, which he said led to not only time-saving, but also reduced stress and less physical labour.