Tea­gasc aim­ing to carve out slice of Chi­nese cheese mar­ket

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE - LOUISE HO­GAN

A RE­SEARCH pro­gramme look­ing at Chi­nese tastes for cheese prod­ucts is be­ing launched by Tea­gasc and a Chi­nese univer­sity.

It fol­lows warn­ings from the Ir­ish Dairy In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion (IDIA) that there is a po­ten­tial Brexit “cliff-edge” sce­nario for Ir­ish ched­dar pro­duc­ers given their de­pen­dence on the UK mar­ket.

Tea­gasc direc­tor Gerry Boyle said the agency was putting a lot of work into re­search­ing mar­kets in China.

“We have set up a lab in China with one of the uni­ver­si­ties and we are about to kick off a ma­jor pro­gramme look­ing at Chi­nese tastes for cheese prod­ucts,” said Pro­fes­sor Boyle at the launch of the semi-state’s an­nual re­port for 2016.

Sev­eral mil­lion has been in­vested by the Chi­nese re­gional gov­ern­ment in a new univer­sity hub at Fu­jian Agri­cul­ture and Forestry Univer­sity, 900km south of Shanghai, while Tea­gasc has com­mit­ted to sup­ply staff and PhD fel­low­ships.

Pro­fes­sor Boyle said Tea­gasc planned to source trained Chi­nese staff for Ir­ish agri-food com­pa­nies look­ing to ex­pand into the re­gion.

Ex­ports to the UK from our four ma­jor ched­dar ex­porters are val­ued at al­most €500m.

Salaries

Close to €9m has been ear­marked in Bud­get 2018 for the Food In­no­va­tion Hub on the Moorepark cam­pus in Fer­moy, Co Cork to sup­port firms di­ver­si­fy­ing into dif­fer­ent mar­kets.

But Tea­gasc has warned that it can­not com­pete with the pri­vate sec­tor for staff due to low start­ing-level salaries.

Pro­fes­sor Boyle said a start­ing salary of €31,000 was “un­com­pet­i­tive” for those who have spent at least four years study­ing for a PhD.

“Like the rest of the pub­lic sec­tor when the pay re­stric­tions were in­tro­duced it has cre­ated cer­tain rigidi­ties and in­flex­i­bil­i­ties around start­ing salaries,” he said.

Tea­gasc has 1,200 per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees.

More than 400 earn over €60,000 a year, while 24 of that co­hort are earn­ing more than €100,000.

The re­tiree base of 1,700 peo­ple con­tin­ues to cost the or­gan­i­sa­tion sig­nif­i­cantly.

The net pen­sion li­a­bil­ity was €1.23bn in 2016, up from €1.16bn in 2015. Pro­fes­sor Boyle said it was go­ing to grow with peo­ple liv­ing longer into re­tire­ment.

It re­ceived €5.6m more in grant aid dur­ing 2016, while in­come for the Knowl­edge Trans­fer scheme in­creased by €6.6m.

Ad­vice was pro­vided to 42,115 farm­ers, while over 12,300 took part in dis­cus­sion groups and more than 24,000 took part in train­ing cour­ses.

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