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Dairy research shows desire for better work-life balance

The Irish dairy sector has undergone a period of growth after 2015
"Having a good work life balance was seen as a choice farmers make and involves skills in time management that they can develop, but there are also factors outside farmers’ control that can make a good work-life balance difficult to achieve"

The Irish dairy sector has undergone a period of growth since milk quotas were removed in 2015. However, while dairy farmers have favourable views about expansion and grass-based systems, some farmers felt that volatile milk prices and increasing costs meant they have little choice but to expand.

These are some of the preliminary findings of the ‘Cows eat grass, don’t they?’ research initiative, led by Dr Orla Shortall, a social researcher at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland. The project focussed on farmer, stakeholder and public views about the future of the dairy sectors in the UK and Ireland.

The research showed that Irish farmers feel like public debate is turning against them in relation to the environment and animal welfare, which can create stress and a feeling of lack of control over the public narrative about the work they do.

Dr Shortall said: “Ideally, farmers would like more stable milk prices and more control over the public and industry conditions they work within.

“Expansion had differing impacts on work-life balance – beneficial for some, not for others. When they expanded some people were able to hire more labour and reduce their own workload. Others worked extra hours to manage the increase in cow numbers.

“Farmers wanted work life balance to be valued better in the industry and by other farmers. Working hard was traditionally seen as part of being a ‘good farmer’. However, farmers called for more emphasis within the industry on the importance of a good work-life balance which would help restore some feeling of control and align the direction of the industry with what farmers want for their own working life.”

Findings also point out that creating shared values around not working long hours is useful. But at the same time this doesn’t solve structural problems around the long-term trend of rising costs and volatile milk prices, and a perception of increased administrative burden which puts time and financial pressure on farmers.

Having a good work life balance was seen as a choice farmers make and involves skills in time management that they can develop, but there are also factors outside farmers’ control that can make a good work-life balance difficult to achieve. 

Dr Shortall’s research also inspired a show presented at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 and 2019 as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, an informal platform for academics to engage the public with their research.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/dairy-research-shows-desire-better-work-life-balance on 27/09/20 04:24:18 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.