Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 24 February 2018

Analysis: The quality of our farming advisory services is second to none so why are they so undervalued?

Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.
Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.
Mike Brady

Mike Brady

In September, the focus for farmers changes from making the most from long summer days to managing and planning for the winter and the year ahead.

Irish farmers are spoilt for choice when it comes to the availability of advice on how to best manage their farm businesses.

There is a wide ­availability of choice between state advisors (Teagasc), private advisors (consultants) and embedded advisors (sales representatives and technical advisers in agribusinesses).You could argue with modern technology that there is ­almost an information overload for farmers on their queries.

The question is; do Irish farmers appreciate and use this research, knowledge and advice and is it value for money?

We recently saw a high-profile public row about fees for Knowledge Transfer (KT) groups run by Teagasc.

Farmers who were not previous clients of Teagasc but were participating in KT groups run by Teagasc facilitators refused to pay a membership fee to Teagasc of €145.

The IFA intervened on behalf of the farmers and Teagasc agreed to submit KT data on behalf of the farmers without having being paid the membership fee.

These farmers choose to join the KT group of their own free will and the irony of it all is that the farmers are actually being paid €750 to attend the group in the first place.

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This shows a total disregard and undervaluing of the research, knowledge and ­advice on offer in the KT groups.

Teagasc receives over €130m per annum between State and EU funds to run its research, teaching and advisory programme.

This is a massive investment by government in our industry (see table 1).

Many other industries are envious of this investment which was maintained through the recession, when other organisations saw their government grants slashed. Teagasc has 27,500 clients who avail of their basic club membership - this is less than 20pc of the farmers in the country.

As the figures outlined in table 2 show, the memberships fees are certainly not prohibitive.

Ranging from €145 to €290 per annum, it would not cover the weekly shopping bill on many farms.

Yet it could be the very factor that makes the weekly shopping more affordable as countless studies prove that those who avail of research and advice consistently ­outperform those that do not.

Who is to blame for this apathy? Is it Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, the farm organisations or the farmers themselves?

Whatever the answer, it is a poor reflection on Irish ­farmers. Over the past 20 years, I have had the ­opportunity to examine and experience research and advisory services in many countries around the world.

The level of research, ­training and advice provided by Teagasc is second to none.

It is a major advantage to have research, training and advisory all joined up in the one organisation.

The success and dynamic growth of the dairy industry is the perfect example of the success of this approach.

We only have to look at our neighbours in the UK to see where we would be without.

Margaret Thatcher ceased all government grants to agricultural research and advisory services in the late 1980s and the UK's agricultural industry has been rudderless ever since.

I recently visited the newest member of the EU, Croatia, where there is one advisor per 1,000 farmers.

I visited a 120-cow dairy farm where the farmer had availed of new EU grants to build a new dairy unit. However, the physical and financial performance on the farm was abysmal to the extent that it was affecting the viability of the farm.

He was crying out for some basic advice to improve his system of production but it was simply not available in the country.

Influx

A new development is the influx of farmers from other countries visiting our farms, conferences and research centres.

There were many British, French and New Zealanders at the Moorepark Open Day and they regularly attend the popular dairy conferences every spring.

There is a wealth of information available at these events, and very openly available on the Teagasc and other websites.

Whereas I am all in favour of international collaboration between farmers, researchers and advisors, should it be more regulated?

More importantly, should we be more protective of our intellectual property and limit the use of such websites only to Irish farmers and advisers?

Farmers should recognise, appreciate and make the maximum use of the quality research, training and advice available in this county.

Without it, it's like playing on football team without a trainer and a captain - that's a team destined to lose.

Mike Brady is a Cork-based agricultural consultant and land agent. email: mike@bradygroup.ie


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