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Independent.ie

Thursday 21 September 2017

Kerry chief warns about impact of Teagasc cutbacks

Prof. Gerald Fitzgerald, UCC; Ben Flanagan, Teagasc, Newcastle West; Cllr John Brassil, chairman, Kerry Co Council; John O’Callaghan, Kerry Agri-Business; Ned Naughton, Teagasc, Listowel, and John Dunworth, regional manager, Teagasc Kerry-Limerick at the launch in Tralee of the regional Strategic Plan 2015-2020.
Prof. Gerald Fitzgerald, UCC; Ben Flanagan, Teagasc, Newcastle West; Cllr John Brassil, chairman, Kerry Co Council; John O’Callaghan, Kerry Agri-Business; Ned Naughton, Teagasc, Listowel, and John Dunworth, regional manager, Teagasc Kerry-Limerick at the launch in Tralee of the regional Strategic Plan 2015-2020.

Martin Ryan

Kerry Agri-Business has warned Teagasc that future financial support will depend on the delivery of a quality advisory service capable of meeting the future needs of farmers in the region.

Launching the Teagasc Strategic Plan 2015-2020 for the Kerry-Limerick Advisory Region, John O'Callaghan, head of Kerry Agri-Business, told the Teagasc officials, staff and farmers that while the partnership with Teagasc has delivered well in the past, the challenges for the future will be greater.

"We will not hang around if the partnership is not delivering - we don't believe in hanging around," Mr O'Callaghan said at the launch in Tralee.

"In our marriage it is very important that it continues to bring to farmers what it has brought the partnership up to now," he added.

In a veiled reference to the recent cuts in Teagasc funding, Mr O'Callaghan warned that skimming over the ground…would not be good enough for farmers in the Kerry catchment area and it would not be good enough for us [Kerry Co-Op]."

However, he assured Teagasc of the continued support of the Kerry Group, provided the "goods were being delivered."

Targets

Meanwhile, Teagasc board member, Professor Gerald Fitzgerald of UCC claimed staff cuts at the state advisory service were putting the achievement of the Food Harvest 2020 targets at risk.

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"Because of increasing demand for Teagasc advisory services and reduced staff numbers, advisors are carrying unsustainable work loads and this is putting the achievement of Food Harvest 2020 at risk," Prof Fitzgerald said.

He blamed the staffing crisis facing the service on the "extremely short sighted" and "ill considered view" of the advisory arm of Teagasc by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Insisting that Teagasc was "reaching the end of the line" as a result of the cuts, Prof Fitzgerald said that even after getting approval for replacement staff, it could take up to a year before a position was filled.

Figures show there has been a 52pc reduction in staff numbers at Teagasc since 2008. It is anticipated that staff levels will drop by a further 30pc, compared to current levels, by 2020.

John Donworth, regional manager, Teagasc, said the demands on the service for technical advice had intensified to meet the workload of application requirements and compliance regulations. However, he said there was far fewer advisors to do the work.

It had now reached the point where litigation was a serious issue for the service because of the greater risk of mistakes and the subsequent consequences for clients.

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