I am of an age that I can boast of being a student at Kildalton Agricultural College in its second year of operations.
However, formal agricultural training in Ireland goes back as far as the early 1900s with the opening of Mountbellew, Athenry, Ballyhaise and Clonakilty colleges.
Over the years, a number of colleges have come and gone.
But with the emphasis on formal training that exists today, the sector is in a healthy state with a wide selection of courses being offered by a significant number of colleges offering state-of-the-art facilities with expert tuition and flexible learning options.
The demand for farm training has been boosted by various Government and EU initiatives associated with taxation concessions and grant aid schemes.
Such initiatives are aimed at accelerating farm succession and encouraging young people to choose a career in farming.
It is a reality that a high percentage of prospective successors are engaged in off-farm employment and this presents a difficulty for many of them in finding the time to attain the minimum standards of training required for the available tax concessions and increased grant assistance.
This need for flexible alternatives is being addressed by Teagasc and the other training providers in the sector by making part-time and distance learning courses available.
The table below sets out the tax incentives and increased grant supports available to those meeting the minimum training standards which is the equivalent to a QQI Level 6 course.
The minimum qualification is commonly referred to as the Green Cert but persons with higher-level degrees in appropriate disciplines are also eligible.
As stated above, the minimum standard is the QQI Level 6 or higher. This can be achieved by various methods as follows;
Acquire a qualification listed by the Revenue Commissioners as a Schedule 2B course. These courses range from two to five years in duration and are on offer from UCD, the Institutes of Technology and Teagasc.
Be the holder of a qualification which Teagasc certifies as the equivalent of a Schedule 2B qualification.
Be the holder of a letter issued by Teagasc confirming satisfactory completion of a course of training approved by Teagasc for persons with learning difficulties.
The Green Cert as referred to above is the most commonly used passport to qualification as a 'Young Trained Farmer'. The qualification can be in horticulture, agriculture, forestry or equine studies. These courses are typically, but not exclusively, run by Teagasc and can be in the following formats;
A full-time option commencing with a Level 5 certificate leading on to a Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate. This Specific Purpose course requires in the region of 170 hours direct contact including classroom sessions, practical skills instruction, farm planning sessions, tutorials, exam time and practical skills assessment time. This course also includes a 12-month practical learning period which will be completed on the home farm or a nominated farm in the Republic of Ireland. Applicants must be 17 years old or over on January 1 following entry to the course. This entire programme is typically of two years' duration.
A part-time option open to mature students where applicants must be 23 years old or over on January 1 following entry to the course. The course content is similar to the full-time option outlined above and can extend over 30 months.
A part-time option to achieve the Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate for those who already have attained a Level 5 Certificate.
A Distance Education option is open to holders of a Level 6 or higher award in a non-agricultural discipline. Participants are required to complete the Level 5 Certificate course and then progress to the Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration as detailed above. They must also have continuous access to a commercial farm in the Republic of Ireland (home farm or approved nominated farm) for the duration of the course in order to develop proficiency in farm tasks and complete farm-based assignments and projects. The course duration is 15-18 months.
All of the full-time courses detailed above are currently provided by Teagasc who also provide part-time (mature students) and distance learning options. Westport College of Further Education in Co Mayo also provides both classroom and distance learning options. Coláiste An Átha at Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford provides the Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration.
Fees for these courses vary from €1,990 to €2,750 depending on the provider.
Martin O'Sullivan is the author of the ACA Farmers Handbook. He is a partner in O'Sullivan Malone and Company, accountants and registered auditors; www.som.ie
If a day passes that I do not receive a query on the tax implications of farm succession it's probably because the day is good and farmers are out making the metaphorical hay while the sun shines.