Conditions may be ideal for grass cutting across the country, yet contractors are seriously struggling to find tractor drivers to pilot outfits, independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has warned.

Although labour shortage problems in the dairy, horticulture and beef sectors have been widely discussed among industry leaders in recent weeks; the shortage of skilled machinery drivers is becoming an increasingly acute issue on the ground.

Speaking to AgriLand, Fitzmaurice – a farmer, contractor and turf-cutter who represents the Roscommon-Galway constituency – said the situation is becoming “almost impossible”.

“We exported our skilled labour to England and Australia; now everyone wants to go to college and no one wants to do anything manual.

“To get tractor drivers now for silage is nearly impossible; there is an awful scarcity. I’d be talking to all the boys on the silage and the turf-cutting side of things and it’s torture for them – absolute torture.

One lad told me he got a fella one day; he spent three or four hours drawing in and then said ‘he didn’t like it’ – so he hit the road.

Fitzmaurice, who has been highlighting the lack of skilled machinery workers for many years, is currently working on a new project to address the issue.

He is looking to bolster support to establish a mobile training facility for aspiring machinery operators, including: digger drivers, bulldozer drivers, grader drivers, etc.

(Stay tuned to AgriLand for more on Fitzmaurice’s project plans over the coming days.)

The independent TD said the shortage is also compounded by payment rates and the seasonal nature of the work.

Also Read: Table: Contractor association releases full 2018 ‘guide rates’

“Back when I started out contracting lads were running to you for work. It’s gone to the stage around Ireland now that when you are talking to contractors, they are nearly begging people to go work for them,” Fitzmaurice said.

Second-cut silage

Meanwhile, farmers have been encouraged to plan for a second cut of silage in 2018 by Teagasc dairy specialist Dr. Joe Patton.

Improved grass growth and ground conditions have been witnessed in most parts of the country in recent weeks, with many farms taking the opportunity to begin harvesting first-cut silage.

The Teagasc Fodder Working Group is reportedly monitoring conditions across various sites nationally.

Commenting on the current situation, Dr. Patton said: “It’s important that the first cut is not delayed and that the majority of farmers plan for a second cut in the 2018 silage season.

“Every effort should be made to rebuild fodder stocks during the coming months to ensure adequate stocks for the 2018 winter / 2019 spring,” he said.