Greater collaboration between Teagasc and private consultants would help entire sector - ACA

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Collaboration between private agricultural consultants and Teagasc would improve the performance of the entire sector, according to the President of the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) Owen O’Driscoll.

The organisation is calling for greater support collaboration with Teagasc, which it says costs the State €27m, or €114,406 per advisor and €621 per farmer.

According to a new report from the ACA two thirds of farmers are not getting proper disseminated research, as ACA members should have access to publically-funded Teagasc research data. This, the ACA says is anti-competitive and not sustainable to deliver government policy. ACA members provide advisory services to 55,000 farmers, while Teagasc provides services to 43,000 farmers.

While the ACA has 160 offices around the country Teagasc has 49, yet ACA members also account for 80pc of all TAMS applications and 76pc of completed nutrient management plans.

“It is clear that the relationship between the ACA and Teagasc is not as strong and as collaborative as it should be. Outside of the dairy sector the linkages are weak and there is a level of mistrust that is not good for Irish agriculture.”

Further, the part-time farmer with a low level of skills days are numbered and knowledge is going to be the key driver of the sector, according to O’Driscoll. “Farming has become very technical as the standards expected from food producers have changed and continue to change in a very significant way. To provide the required level of service, will have to have a high level of skills, expertise and training.”

In a new report, by economist Jim Power, it says the role of a farm advisory service is to bridge the gap between research availability and farmer adoption of that research. Financial constraints and office closures inevitably impact on Teagasc’s ability to fulfil its advisory role in all regions, it says, while Teagasc had to sub-contract services to the Farm Relief Services and other private sector operators in recent years.

“Given their more extensive network and local presence, private advisors are optimally positioned to provide broader services to all parts of the country.”

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One option put forward by the ACA is that its members concentrate on the provision of scheme work and the farmer courses. These would include safety, pollution, climate change actions, biodiversity, nitrates regulations, health and safety. Teagasc, on the other hand, would concentrate on a higher level of advisory, based on the provision of technical advice derived from Teagasc research.

Another option it proposes is that ACA advisors would provide all the advisory services that Teagasc advisors current provide, with such advisors given full and free access to Teagasc research.

It also says there should be an opportunity to develop advisory services in close co-operation with Teagasc. The delivery of advisory services by Teagasc has come under pressure from the Exchequer funding restrictions, with gaps, it says, ins the advisory service Teagasc provides.

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