Teagasc aiming to carve out slice of Chinese cheese market
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.
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.