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Sunday 11 December 2016

Hogan backs Teagasc plea for more advisors

Under-investment poses threat to Irish farming says EU Agriculture Commissioner

Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30

Phil Hogan in the European Parliament in Brussels.
Phil Hogan in the European Parliament in Brussels.

EU FARM Commissioner Phil Hogan has issued a stiff warning to his former government colleagues on the critically low level of farm advisors caused by lack of funding for Teagasc.

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His comments follow a warning from Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle, that farm advisor numbers have almost halved in the past seven years.

In a clear message to his former cabinet colleagues, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, Mr Hogan said new challenges for farmers meant a good advisory service was now vital. He said the opening of world food markets meant huge challenges were emerging for Irish producers.

At issue is the recruitment embargo which has cut numbers from 422 advisors in 2007 to just 235 at the end of last year.  But the economic pickup and other farm sector changes mean numbers of farmers seeking advice are on the rise, topping 45,000 last year.

“Teagasc is a critical agency delivering essential advice at a time of great farm diversification.

“There is a need for one-to-one advice on a regular basis for farmers and I am very supportive of ensuring the critical mass of personnel are available to deliver that service effectively,” said Commissioner Hogan.

“We cannot meet our food requirements in the future without knowledge transfer and innovation by farmers. Teagasc needs the numbers and personnel to be able to deliver that effectively.”

Prof Boyle, speaking at the launch of the Teagasc Advisory Service Strategy 2015-2020 at Dublin’s Botanic Gardens, said advisor numbers were now below the minimum required to sustain reasonable service.

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It comes after Teagasc blamed the reduction in staffing levels for the decision to outsource GLAS planning.

Dr Tom Kelly, Teagasc director of knowledge transfer, said retirements meant they expected the number of advisory staff to drop to 180 by 2020 which would “damage” the relationship with farmers.

He called for advisor numbers to be restored to 240.

Commissioner Hogan is in Dublin today for the launch of an EU rural funding loan scheme which could enhance government funding to farm and local development projects.

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