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03 Sep, 2018

International Agricultural Workforce Workshop Report 2018

Thomas Culloty, a Senior Tax Accountant with Ifac, recently attended the International Workforce Workshop hosted by Teagasc. This event was attended by various stakeholders including farmers, co-op representatives, accountants and educational officers, who discussed the labour challenges facing the industry.

Thomas Culloty, a Senior Tax Accountant with Ifac, recently attended the International Workforce Workshop hosted by Teagasc. This event was attended by various stakeholders including farmers, co-op representatives, accountants and educational officers, who discussed the labour challenges facing the industry. In addition to this, the potential programmes which need to be put in place to overcome the issues associated with the labour shortages on Irish Farms were discussed in depth.

The objective of this event was to:

  • Get an industry focused solution to on – farm labour issues.

  • To inform the Moorepark Labour Research Programme of different stakeholders perspectives.

  • Development of a framework to identify and conduct beneficial collaborative research on farm labour studies by relevant groups

Key challenges of acquiring and retaining key staff members

As the Irish economy continues to grow, employment is almost at record levels, the demand for labour is becoming increasingly competitive. Farmers are now experiencing difficulty in sourcing labour with competition from all sectors but particularly the construction sector is a major concern.

Employees are choosing other sectors over farming and the key reasons for this were identified as:

  • Seasonality of work

  • Working conditions

  • Poor communication & training

  • Inferior wages compared to other sectors

Key points from the event

  • Educational officers advised that dairy farmers cannot rely totally on student placements to meet labour demand.

  • As farmers expand their businesses and specifically the dairy sector, the requirement for additional labour on their farms is a key challenge and priority. Hiring and managing staff requires different management skills and farmers may need to seek professional advice in relation to same.

  • The key driver in any business organisation is having good reliable staff and being able to retain them.

  • Some farmers who need labour are reluctant to hire staff because of the administrative burden involved and ensuring compliance with Revenue. Professional service providers like ifac can ensure all the necessary paperwork can be completed and returns filed with Revenue on time, this allows the farmer to concentrate on their business.

  • It is very important that farmers dedicate time to staff training. In order to ensure employees are comfortable and content in their on farm responsibilities, this will pay dividends in the proceeding months.

  • Teagasc to continue their research and collaborate with industry stakeholders to provide farmers with best practice labour management techniques.

What can farms offer employees that other sectors can not

Many farmers may not be able to compete on wages but they can incentivize staff to work with them by offering the following;

  • Flexi working hours – ideal for staff with family

  • Bonus payment – give certain goals to achieve- milk solids etc

  • Career progression – farm manager

  • Invest in education and training of staff

To achieve a very good working environment for both the employee and farmer, the following steps offer guidance on best practice:

  • Good Human Resource policies – including being legally compliant by having the contract negotiated and signed, terms of employment agreed.

  • Simple farming system- grass based compact calving

  • Good facilities

  • Planning your work

  • Staff meeting weekly

  • Focus – clear goals and targets

  • Invest time in training your staff

The farming industry is very good at promoting its products both nationally and internationally, however, a criticism that was highlighted was that the industry is not good at highlighting the fantastic work its farmers do.

Farming can be a very enjoyable and rewarding career and it is up to each and every stakeholder to collaborate and to ensure that farmers continue to enjoy the work they do by ensuring a sufficient supply of labour can be attracted to the industry.

In terms of references, the Teagasc site has a section dedicated to labour: https://www.teagasc.ie/animals/dairy/labour/

The Teagasc Labour manual can be downloaded from there or you can get it at: https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2017/teagasc-farm-labour-manual.php

The proceedings from the International Agricultural Workforce conference are available at: [https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2018/international-agricultural-workforce- conference.php](https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2018/international-agricultural-workforce- conference.php)