For dairy farmers, where does the time go?

A new study in the July Journal of Dairy Science® examines labor time-use on pasture-based dairy farms in Ireland


Philadelphia July 26, 2022

Globally, dairy producers face increasing challenges regarding sustainability, including declining numbers of workers in the agricultural sector, while continuing to meet increasing demand for nutritious and affordable food. Dairy systems must now focus on more sustainable production that reflects economic, environmental, and social goals. A new report in the Journal of Dairy Science®, published by Elsevier, explores labor time-use on Irish pasture-based dairy farms in the busy spring and summer seasons.

Employment in agriculture, as a share of total worldwide employment, has declined by 29.8% since the year 2000. Due to this reduced availability of workers, management of labor input is becoming a crucial challenge for dairy farms internationally, especially in expanding dairy markets. The seasonal workload associated with pasture-based dairy farming—a system that promotes farm profitability along with favorable environmental impacts—combined with increasing herd sizes, has led to a renewed focus on labor time-use and efficiency on these farms.

The study used up-to-date technology, including a mobile phone app, to track labor time-use across 82 spring-calving pasture-based Irish dairy farms from February 1 to June 30, 2019. This allowed the research team to begin examining the often-overlooked social dimension of sustainable farming, including working hours and quality of life.

First author Conor Hogan, of Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre (Moorepark, Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland) and the School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin (Dublin, Ireland), explains, “Each farmer recorded their labor input on one alternating day each week, using a smartphone app. Any labor input by farm workers not using the app was recorded through a weekly online survey.”

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The team found that milking was the most time-consuming task, representing 31% of farm labor input, making it an important focus for potential improvements in efficiency. The next most time-consuming tasks were calf care (14%), grassland management (13%), cow care (10%), repairs and maintenance (10%), and administration/business (8%). The researchers further report that participating farmers worked, on average, 60 hours a week across the study period, and that the busiest months on most of the farms were February and March.

The team emphasizes the importance of understanding labor use during the most labor-demanding time of year on pasture-based dairy farms, as this points to areas where labor efficiency improvements can be made. As Hogan points out, “Improved time-use in spring and summer, resulting in reduced work hours, can have associated positive effects on many aspects of dairy farming, including enhanced health and safety of farm operators and reduced stress and fatigue among farmers, creating more attractive workplaces and improving farm profitability.”

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Notes for editors

The article is “An examination of labor time-use on spring-calving dairy farms in Ireland,” by C. Hogan, J. Kinsella, B. O’Brien, M. Gorman, and M. Beecher (https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2022-21935). It appears online in the Journal of Dairy Science, volume 105, issue 7 (July 2022), published by Fass Inc. and Elsevier.

The article is openly available at https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(22)00322-8/fulltext

Full text of the article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or jdsmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact the corresponding author, Conor Hogan, Teagasc, Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland, at conor.hogan@teagasc.ie.

About the Journal of Dairy Science

The Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2021 Journal Impact Factor of 4.225 and five-year Journal Impact Factor of 4.987 according to Journal Citation Reports™ (Source: Clarivate™ 2022). www.journalofdairyscience.org

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA®)

The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world's population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry. www.adsa.org

About FASS Inc.

Since 1998, FASS has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes several BELS-certified (www.bels.org) technical editors and experienced composition staff. www.fass.org

About Elsevier
As a global leader in information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making for customers across the global research and health ecosystems.

In everything we publish, we uphold the highest standards of quality and integrity. We bring that same rigor to our information analytics solutions for researchers, health professionals, institutions and funders.

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Media contacts
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732 238 3628
jdsmedia@elsevier.com

Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
American Dairy Science Association®
+1 630 237 4961
keolson@prodigy.net