Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Boyle admits depleted Teagasc under strain

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The dramatic fall in the number of Teagasc farm advisers is in danger of compromising the agency's ability to carry out its duties. This was the clear message from the organisation's chief, Professor Gerry Boyle, when he addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture last week.

There are now just 77 dairy advisers, 31 drystock advisers and 10 tillage advisers serving around 44,000 farmers, according to figures provided by Teagasc.

"If the numbers in the advisory service evolve as indicated over the next four to five years there will be major consequences for the operation of the service and indeed the level of service that can be offered," said Prof Boyle.

He added that chronic shortages in qualified staff may result in Teagasc having to restrict the numbers of students that could be accepted into agricultural colleges next year.

He also predicted an end to Teagasc's involvement in advising on the huge raft of farm schemes and cross-compliance issues if retirements continued at the current pace and the moratorium on new recruitment was retained.

"If we faced an exceptional level of early retirement before 2013, we would have to seriously consider off-loading this work to the private sector," he said.

Prof Boyle estimated that the 404 advisers it had in 2008 could halve by the end of 2014. The advisory section has already shrunk by a third in the past two years.

At the end of 2008 Teagasc had 340 permanent advisers and 65 contract REPS advisers. However, since then the agency has lost 69 permanent advisers and another 65 contract staff. The moratorium on public recruitment has meant these vacancies have not been filled.

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When asked if the loss of staff had compromised Teagasc's ability to deliver advice to farmers, the Teagasc boss admitted that the advisory service was under considerable strain.

"Even if the scale of early retirement was not to be realised there is considerable pressure on the advisory service in all area units, but some areas are being particularly adversely affected, such as Cork East, Cork West, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford-Kilkenny," Prof Boyle told the committee.

"This pressure is especially apparent in the spring period given the needs of commercial farmers and various scheme-driven deadlines."

The organisation is looking at the option of moving Teagasc area managers into other areas temporarily to cope with this problem.

Prof Boyle said advisers from "less pressurised" areas may be required to "temporarily relocate" to these areas to relieve the pressure in other areas.

Irish Independent