Survey points to dairy skill shortage

Michelle Slater

ONE-in-four dairy farmers can’t find labour, according to Dairy Australia survey figures, with the issue compounded by COVID and a nationwide skills shortage affecting sectors beyond agriculture.

Kongwak dairy farmer Andrew Perry (right) with one of his workers Lance Fraser. 
Kongwak dairy farmer Andrew Perry (right) with one of his workers Lance Fraser. 
Photographs Michelle Slater

Figures state that 22 per cent of dairy farmers were unable to fill vacancies within three months and 40 per cent of farmers were losing at least one or more workers.

To help tackle the problem, Dairy Australia has launched a new marketing campaign promoting the benefits of working in dairy farming to bring people into the industry and retain them.

The perks include working with animals, working outdoors, career progression, job variety and training, job security and food production.

Dairy Australia will be providing employment support and connect farmers with jobseeker networks and recruitment agencies, and promote careers at schools, universities and TAFEs.

Kongwak dairy farmer, Andrew Perry, has a stable team of two full-time workers and some casuals to step in and lend a hand, but he struggled to find workers when he began farming in 2015.

The former dairy vet said while his staff had stuck with him, others had struggling to find workers.

“This is nothing new, it’s just now we have to compete with every other industry looking for workers,” Mr Perry said.

“When we started out we advertised and we would organise a time, but it was summer and 40 degrees and many wouldn’t even turn up for a trial.

“It was terrible, for months and months we did everything ourselves. We heard word-of-mouth of one lady looking for work and she is still working with us now.”

Mr Perry said some of the challenges surrounded filling morning and evening milking shifts, coupled with perceptions dairy was hard and smelly ‘yakka’.

“The cows have to be milked, you can’t go into the shed twice a day for 360 days a year to do it yourself, someone has to do it, and if you can’t find the labour it’s not sustainable,” he said.

“The family sacrifice is enormous if you can’t find labour and I can think of a lot of farmers in the past few years who exited because of labour.”

But Mr Perry said dairy offered a job to suit people at different stages of their life and interests, with a variety of jobs offering a pathway into the industry and the ability to progress through the ranks.

He said this could include learning entry-level skills and working up towards share or lease farming.

“There are not too many opportunities for people without education these days to do this. It’s a healthy job and you are doing something physical,” he said.

“I always feel good to get half-a-day’s work done when others are rolling out of bed and you can have the rest of the day free.”

Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.