Another grievance was that neither the meeting topics, or the Farm Improvement Plans (FIP) were ready to be rolled out in a timely fashion.
Vet meetings were delayed because vets hadn't received their training which eventually commenced in December, Health and Safety couldn't be rolled out because facilitators hadn't received training until April, and the herd health measure and FIP computer system were not available until May.
And the initial scheme closing date of May 31 was flawed as farmers are up to their eyes in work from February until June and haven't much time or patience to tolerate meetings that aren't topical to seasonal issues.
For example Health and Safety meetings may be better received in the autumn rather than spring. It's no surprise that farmers became frustrated with the scheme.
My other concern was for facilitators. Did limited lead-in time reduce the effectiveness of meetings? Possibly. Having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting will again be no value to the farmers.
Good facilitation relies on preparation.
I was thankful to have 12 years of experience to support me in this role given the circumstances we were expected to work under.
Finally, there's the FIP process. As required by the scheme I had completed the specified online programmes for pasture management, breeding, profit and carbon navigator for each participant.
To my dismay this information then had to be manually transferred into the Department system.
This felt somewhat frustrating and time-inefficient, but I accept that this is what the Department feel that facilitators are being paid for so I chose to get on with it.
On completing three recommendations for each farmer within each section, I actually thought that this could provide a farmer with clarity on the changes required on their farming systems.
However the biggest flaw with the scheme is that the Department system doesn't offer the facilitator the option to send these recommendations to the farmer.
You can't even view and print the section once it's completed. I was left wondering how a farmer was meant to act on a recommendation if the only people receiving recommendations are Department officials.
This is a serious issue with the knowledge transfer process.
Having spoken to vets with reference to the animal health measure it also seems that they can't print off their recommendations to give to the farmer.
I'm bemused as to how a farmer can act on a recommendation to achieve an outcome by the end of this KT year when they haven't even access to the recommendations that were given.
It now seems that the only beneficiary of the knowledge transfer within the FIP is the Department not the farmer as intended.
This needs to be addressed.
Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in County Kerry
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