If life is beginning to get unbearable as a dairy farmer in the UK or Ireland then there is currently a better opportunity to milk cows on the other side of the world.
Australia is crying out for skilled workers and dairy farming comes under that remit. There is a big demand for British and Irish farm workers in Australia and for those who want to set up on their own there. The cost of setting up a dairy farm there is much less than in New Zealand, hence why so many Kiwis are also moving to Australia for a better start.
There is a serious shortage of workers on Australian for dairy farms, and the situation has become so bad the government has added dairy farm worker to its list of eligible careers that can apply to enter via a skilled workers 457 visa. Young dairy farmers from the UK or Ireland could apply for entry to Australia via this skilled visa. As dairy farming is listed on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List (CSOL), it is possible to apply for skilled working visas or a number of employer sponsored visa options if applicants have a firm offer of employment.
Many synergies in dairy systems
Charlie McElhone looks after International Trade at Dairy Australia, the national services body for dairy farmers and the industry, and highlights the investment opportunities for dairy farmers Down Under. McElhone: "The Australian dairy industry is very supportive of investment into our industry and recognises that if we are to capture the full opportunities available to our industry that we will require an injection of capital from both domestic and overseas sources. In this regard, any investment by British and Irish in the Australian dairy industry would be well regarded and Dairy Australia is happy to provide information to ensure that this investment is well informed and has the optimal chance of being a success. Australian, British and Irish dairy systems have many synergies, all being predominantly pasture based. This suggests that there is a natural alignment between our industries, again underpinning what we would hope would be successful investment by British and Irish in Australia. Australia already has a strong British and Irish flavour within its dairy industry and UK/Irish labour is commonplace within the Australian dairy industry. This is particularly evident through the British and Irish Working Holiday makers working in our industry, some of whom have used this as a launching pad to work on a more long term basis in our industry."
Growing industry needs more workers
He further added that there is an increasing need for skilled workers/managers in the Australian dairy industry. Many Australian farmers are using skilled migration visas to find suitable employees overseas to meet this need. "They are particularly looking for employees with formal qualifications in Agriculture combined within experience on larger farms. The British and Irish are not alone in recognising the enormous opportunities that the Australian dairy industry presents and there has been a huge amount of interest in recent times in recognition of Australia's ideal position to capitalise on the growth in the Asian region while having a solid domestic market to fall back on," according to McElhone. However the labour shortage is a huge problem right across the farming sector in Australia. There are currently around 6,300 dairy farms in Australia but as they amalgamate and continue to grow they need more workers. Over 66% of these farms employ outside help other than family. Surveys conducted by Dairy Australia suggest each dairy farm employs between 2 and 5 staff with totals employed in dairy farm work hitting 25,000. However, 80% of dairy farmers struggle to find workers with the essential skills necessary to help on their farms. In order for farmers in Australia to hire foreign workers on a skilled 457 visa they needs to show that for 6 months they tried to fill the job locally. An overseas applicant requires 5 years' experience as a dairy farm worker in order to qualify for the visa.
On a 457 visa a farm worker can earn the minimum salary of AUS$53,900 a year and can work legally for up to 4 years on this visa for the sponsoring farm.
Meeting local needs
Claire Miller, Dairy Australia's policy strategy manager, said the dairy industry would continue to rely on overseas workers to meet labour demand in the short to medium term and changes to the 457 visa criteria were necessary to meet local needs. Miller: "Previously you could only get in farm managers (on 457 visas) but its senior farm hand managers that are most in demand. These changes mean a senior farm hand, with more than 5 years' experience, or a Certificate III in Agriculture (or equivalent) with 3 years' experience, is eligible under the 457 system. Ultimately, we want to hire Australians – it's certainly a lot easier and something the dairy industry is focused on – but if farmers are not getting anywhere hiring from the local labour pool, they do need to be able to demonstrate that they have at least tried. "Backpackers are not really a long term solution to labour shortages," she added "As soon as farmers get them trained up, they've got to move on.
"Although there is quite a bit of paperwork involved with the application, the payoff is that you get the right worker for your operation and you do get them for between 3 to 4 years, with the possibility of the visas extending beyond that," Miller concludes.