Teagasc’s National Farm Survey 2019 Sustainability Report gives some insight into the amount of hours worked on the average Irish farm but, in correspondence with Irish Country Living, a respresentative says this does not take into account the hours worked off-farm.

“The Teagasc sustainability report has an indicator that partially captures some of the work-life balance performance across the different farm systems and how this is evolving overtime,” they write.

“This indicator is the hours spent by the operator working on the farm. However, the indicator doesn’t take into account hours worked off the farm – so while a beef farmer may appear to have a very ‘healthy’ work-life balance, the work balance metric only measures the farm work. If farmers are working off the farm, things may not be so healthy.”

The report offers an analysis on the different types of farms included in the study, as well as how different farm systems have performed (in terms of hours worked on the farm by the operator over time).

“It is clear that dairy farmers work the most hours on farm of any farmers, and that the hours have been increasing over time,” the representative writes.

“The opposite is the case for drystock farmers, who work significantly fewer hours on the farm – and the number of hours worked has been declining over time.

“However, we are being careful not to over-interpret these data,” they continue. “For example, we know that many drystock farm operators have an off-farm job. Circa 40% of cattle rearing/cattle other/sheep farms have an operators have an off-farm job. With low average family farm incomes, these households have to have other sources of income to survive, today.”

Teagasc refer to published data from the Revenue Commissioners for further proof of the need for off-farm incomes. For those who declare an agricultural income, the proportion of income from farming (relative to PAYE/off-farm income) is quite small throughout the country, and particularly for those invested in drystock.

Revenue’s 2020 data profile on the farming sector in Ireland shows average farming incomes by county from 2016-18 and can be viewed online at revenue.ie.

The data provided shows the gross annual income average v farming income average. In most counties the gross annual income is double or higher than the farming income average. Teagasc gives Co Galway, a drystock county, as a prime example.

“In 2018, on average, only a third of gross income of those declaring a farming income was from farming, with the other two-thirds from non-agricultural sources,” they write. “PAYE income was, by some way, the largest component of incomes in farm households nationally.”

What are the answers?

What does this mean for farmers wanting to maintain some kind of work-life balance? Some options currently being considered are the use of smart technology to optimise labour efficiency; especially useful on high volume dairy farms.

Teagasc says, if you are a farmer with a family and off-farm job, the main thing is to consider what work needs to be done and who will do it.

“Good facilities, adoption appropriate of work practices and technologies as well as good organisation (including the use of contractors) is key to achieving a good work-life balance [for farmers],” they write.

“We are also currently doing a study on the attitudes and values of farmers who operate a highly labour efficient farm with minimal family and external hired employees.”