The quality of our farming advisory services is second to
IN SEPTEMBER, the focus for farmers changes from making the most from long summer days to managing and planning for the winter and the year ahead.
Irish farmers are spoilt for choice when it comes to the availability of advice on how to best manage their farm businesses.
There is a wide availability of choice between state advisors (Teagasc), private advisors (consultants) and embedded advisors (sales representatives and technical advisers in agribusinesses). You could argue with modern technology that there is almost an information overload for farmers on their queries.
The question is; do Irish farmers appreciate and use this research, knowledge and advice and is it value for money?
We recently saw a high-profile public row about fees for Knowledge Transfer (KT) groups run by Teagasc.
Farmers who were not previous clients of Teagasc but were participating in KT groups run by Teagasc facilitators refused to pay a membership fee to Teagasc of €145.
The IFA intervened on behalf of the farmers and Teagasc agreed to submit KT data on behalf of the farmers without having being paid the membership fee.
These farmers choose to join the KT group of their own free will and the irony of it all is that the farmers are actually being paid €750 to attend the group in the first place.
This shows a total disregard and undervaluing of the research, knowledge and advice on offer in the KT groups.
Teagasc receives over €130m per annum between State and EU funds to run its research, teaching and advisory programme.
This is a massive investment by government in our industry (see table 1).
Many other industries are envious of this investment which was maintained through the recession, when other organisations saw their government grants slashed. Teagasc has 27,500 clients who avail of their basic club membership — this is less than 20pc of the farmers in the country.
As the figures outlined in table 2 show, the member- ships fees are certainly not prohibitive.
Ranging from €145 to €290 per annum, it would not cover the weekly shopping bill on many farms.
Yet it could be the very factor that makes the weekly shopping more affordable as countless studies prove that those who avail of research and advice consistently outperform those that do not.
Who is to blame for this apathy? Is it Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, the farm organisations or the farmers themselves?
Whatever the answer, it is a poor reflection on Irish farmers. Over the past 20 years, I have had the opportunity to examine and experience research and advisory services in many countries around the world.
The level of research,