Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Teagasc Annual Report 2018: Discussion

Professor Gerry Boyle:

I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity for my colleagues, Dr. O'Mara and Dr. Kelly, and I to address the committee this afternoon. The committee asked us to focus on our 2018 annual report and on our current and future plans. I do not propose to read the statement in its entirety; I will just focus on some of the key points.

Last year, Teagasc's total expenditure was €185 million and this year, we anticipate an outturn of €186 million. Approximately 70% of the total was funded through grant-in-aid, and that is 60% when expenditure on pensions is excluded. Teagasc is unique among non-commercial State-sponsored bodies in having sizeable expenditure funded though non-grant-in-aid sources, including advisory and education fees, farm receipts, services to industry, industry levies, and receipts from its successful participation in competitive research programmes. Currently, Teagasc employs approximately 1,262 permanent and contract staff.

We have approximately 248 researchers, but not included in that total are 253 Walsh fellows, mainly at PhD level, and approximately 40 masters' students being trained on agricultural extension programmes, in collaboration with University College Dublin, UCD. Under our advisory programme, we have approximately 300 front-line advisers across all farming enterprises at our 51 advisory offices. Some 140 of these are in dry stock, mainly beef; 89 are in dairying; and 16 are in tillage. We have 76 subject matter specialists and these are a critical group of staff in that they provide a bridge between research knowledge and its on-farm adoption through our front-line advisory services. Despite a significant reduction in the number of advisers over the past decade, we have maintained a client base of approximately 43,000. In addition, of course, we provide a service to all farmers.

The Teagasc education system is delivered through Teagasc's four colleges and three affiliated privately-owned colleges. We also partner with many institutes of technology, UCD and, more recently, University College Cork, UCC, to deliver higher level programmes. We have approximately 1,700 students enrolled in our colleges at present. College enrolments have slowed in recent years as the economic recovery has taken hold, but this trend has been substantially offset by enrolments in our part-time programmes delivered across our 12 advisory regions. Approximately 100,000 students are enrolled in these part-time programmes. That is about twice the level that prevailed prior to the establishment of the various incentivisation measures in the rural development programme, RDP, of the current CAP. In addition, Teagasc delivered a wide range of short courses to almost 6,500 people in rural areas.

In recent years, the agency has also set up an education and training programme known as ConnectEd. It is dedicated to the needs of rural professionals, such as private agricultural consultants, agribusiness, banks and other financial institutions. This service is the main vehicle through which we deliver, among other aspects of training, Teagasc's nutrient management planning programme.

I will briefly refer to some highlights in our reports, first from 2018 and then from this year. Last year was the year of the severe fodder crisis. Teagasc's advisers up and down the country played a major role in supporting farmers through that crisis, including clients and non-clients. We held a very successful open day in Grange in 2018 and this year there was a dairy open day in Cork. They are held in alternate years. There was also a crops open day at Oak Park. All of those events attracted substantial attendance.

In 2018, we published a major report, entitled Education Vision, on the future and long-term vision of agricultural education. One of the main outcomes was implemented this year, whereby all students entering agricultural colleges now must spend a minimum of two years in college before they can qualify at level 6. This year also saw the first students enrolled into the new Teagasc-UCC bachelor of agricultural science. This is a third-level programme that will be delivered at UCC and at Teagasc's Moorepark and Clonakilty campuses. Last year and this year, with the support of the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG, we organised a series of smart consent workshops.

On the research front, Teagasc led a successful consortium through Science Foundation Ireland, SFI. This endeavour was also supported by significant funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This centre is known as the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre and it will engage in groundbreaking research on the application of precision-based systems across the dairy value chain, with an emphasis on pasture-based agriculture. This investment is worth approximately €40 million over six years, comprised of public and private funding, and approximately 40 companies are participating in the project.

As far as Horizon 2020 funds are concerned, Teagasc was successful in 2018 and 2019. We were ranked as the fifth most successful applicant for that funding in 2018 and third in 2019. The greenhouse gases abatement report was also published in 2018, popularly known as the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve, MACC. This formed the basis of the Government's agricultural measures in its climate action plan published in June 2019. The agricultural support and advisory programme, ASAP, was also initiated in 2018 to address water quality on the nation's farms. It is a joint initiative of the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Housing, Planning and Local Government, Teagasc and the dairy co-operatives. Teagasc has 20 advisers dedicated to the programme, with the co-operatives providing an additional ten. This service is provided free of charge to farmers.

Substantial investment is being put in place to enable Ireland to be Brexit-ready. The challenge associated with Brexit is to encourage food companies to diversify their exports and this will require significant innovation. With private and public support, Teagasc is investing €30 million in three major initiatives. These include the extension of its Moorepark Technology Limited pilot plant, at a cost of €10 million, the establishment of a prepared consumer food centre at Teagasc Ashtown, Castleknock, also at a cost of €10 million, and the investment of some €9 million, provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in the development of what we call a food innovation hub at Teagasc Moorepark. Construction on that facility recently commenced.

Finally, looking forward to 2020, in the first quarter, Teagasc will launch its statement of strategy that will cover the period 2020-2022. We will also publish our regular sectoral roadmaps and these will provide an important input into the Government's successor to Food Wise 2025. A key objective for us next year will be to implement the Teagasc recommendations as published in the Government's climate action plan for the mitigation of greenhouse gases and ammonia. This will involve an intensive advisory campaign. We also intend that all Teagasc research and college farms will adhere to the highest standards of sustainability and we will launch a plan to secure sustainable profitability across the beef sector. There will be continued focus on good calf management on dairy farms to ensure the good health and welfare of calves and also a focus on working closely with dairy farmers to improve the beef quality of calves through the use of the dairy-beef index and sex semen.

A major open day on beef will be held in Grange next year and there will also be a sheep open day at Athenry. We intend to progress research on antimicrobial and anthelmintic resistance. Teagasc also plans next year to consolidate and enhance our research programme on the sustainable circular bio-economy, especially in the area of food. As I mentioned earlier, we plan to complete the construction of the food innovation hub at Teagasc Moorepark. We also intend to continue our support for Irish Aid's development efforts in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Vietnam. I left out one measure and my apologies for that. I refer to our plan, now well advanced, to establish a CPD-accredited programme for all our Teagasc short courses.


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