As I continue my canvass across North Cork I regularly meet farmers who raise the issue of a shortage in the availability of labour for the agricultural sector. Dairy farmers in particular have raised the issue with me, outlining how they find it difficult get access to both regular and relief labour for their farms. They have placed adverts for vacancies, and in some cases have received no replies.
In May 2018 a pilot scheme was introduced for the horticulture, meat processing, and diary sectors, allowing workers from non-EU countries to access employment in these sectors. The dairy sector was given a quota of 50 permits, all of which have been used. Minister Heather Humphreys needs to expand this so dairy farmers can relieve some of the pressure of obtaining regular and trained workers. The fact that all of the permits in the pilot scheme have been used would suggest that the dairy sector is facing a critical labour shortage. I have contacted Minister Michael Creed’s office to raise this, and they have confirmed that a case has been made to expand the number of permits available.
This is only one action that can be taken to improve the supply of labour for the agricultural industry. There is a bigger issue with the lack of young people choosing to get trained as farm operatives. An aging farming population is a sign that there is a need to increase the supply of trained farm operatives. This is a challenge in the current economic climate where the unemployment rate has fallen below 4%, but it is already a critical issue and therefore cannot be ignored.