The Revenue Commissioners are demanding Teagasc makes major changes to its certificate in agriculture course if it wants students to keep the stamp duty exemption for farm transfers.
The shock news emerged when a review of the course, formerly known as the 'Green Cert', found that the current one-year duration of the certificate did not meet FETAC Level 6 criteria, as required by Revenue to qualify for the tax exemption.
For the Green Cert course to meet Revenue criteria, it would require a two-year study period at an approved agricultural college, or up to three-and-a-half years on the alternative 'contract' training course.
This represents a doubling of the current duration under both routes.
It has been confirmed that the annual fee for the current certificate in agriculture course is €2,000 plus about €150 for textbooks and any increase in the course length would inevitably result in a significant hike in costs for students.
Paddy Browne, head of education with Teagasc, said the agency was considering offering a new course, which would not involve extending the duration, in the hope that it would get Revenue approval.
"If the course is to be extended along the proposed lines, there will also have to be a reduction in the number of entrants each year, because we haven't got the staff to cope," Mr Browne said.
"We have the support of the IFA and Macra for what we are proposing, but the difficulty is to get Revenue to accept that it meets the criteria as a qualifying course for the exemption from stamp duty."
ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin, has echoed Teagasc's concerns about the shortage of resources for ag colleges.
"More and more second level students are turning to agriculture as their career path when they leave school but we're very concerned that there aren't enough opportunities for those Leaving Cert students.
"Ireland is fast becoming no country for ag students," he said.
It is understood that current holders of the agriculture certificate will not be affected and they can qualify for the stamp duty exemption, provided that they meet the other criteria.
However, there are fears that the current difficulties have the potential to 'freeze' the transfer of land to young farmers.
A top-level meeting involving Teagasc, Department of Agriculture officials and Revenue has been scheduled for later this week to discuss the issue.
The opportunity to avail of stamp duty exemption has been extended to the end of 2012, when it will be reviewed again.
Stamp duty costs are based on asset value of farmland and likely to vary between €30,000 and €100,000 for the average transfer where an exemption does not apply.