Dairies struggle to fill labour needs

Zach RelphSouth Western Times

South West dairy farmers are facing an uphill battle to attract skilled labour to the embattled sector, warning the struggle to find and retain additional farm workers is dogging the industry.

Peak industry body Dairy Australia has forecast an additional 800 employees will be needed at dairy operations nationwide by 2023 and identified bolstering the workforce as a priority.

However, milk suppliers across WA’s dairy region are grappling to plug the labour shortfall.

Dairy producer Phil Hall — who farms with wife Sue and son Tavis — employed two additional workers at the family’s Wokalup property, until 11/2 years ago.

The fourth-generation dairy farmer opted to get rid of the positions as difficulty to retain staff became too much of a strain.

“We milk every 12 hours. We get up at 3am and start milking before milking again at 3pm,” Mr Hall said.

“We’ve had a lot of past employees say ‘we are not getting up at that time’.”

Dairy Australia’s situational analysis report, released last month, found the number of milk-producing farms employing workers was rising.

According to its data, the dairy sector directly employed 42,000 people in 2016-17 and 86 per cent of dairy farmers employed additional labour, equating to a 20 per cent increase since 2014.

The industry body also reported dairy farms’ staff employment spiked Australia-wide from 25 per cent in 2005 to 86 per cent in 2017.

Dairy Australia managing director David Nation said farms with six or more employees across the industry were projected to rise from 4 per cent to 20 per cent by 2025.

Dr Nation said the analysis indicated an additional 800 people would be needed on farms across Australia within four years.

“The need for skilled labour is also increasing with the use of technology, the need to monitor farm inputs, animal care, milk quality, managing environmental credentials and other aspects of dairy,” he said.

“Attracting people to the industry by presenting the many career pathways and providing opportunity to build skills, is a continued priority.”

Mr Hall said he was open to reinstalling the two positions at his Wokalup farm, but noted low milk prices were still impeding industry progression.

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