Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Teagasc Annual Report 2018: Discussion

Dr. Tom Kelly:

As Deputy Pringle knows, the Agricultural Consultants Association is quite a large body with about 150 members. They are private consultants like ourselves, scattered throughout the country in different towns and servicing different parishes. Many SMEs are members. Three or four people are employed. The ACA had a lot of work when the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, was in operation. We also supplied the GLAS planning service to our clients. We concentrated on our own clients and the ACA served other interested farmers. Consultants' work on GLAS came to an end about two years ago, as did our own. Several members of the ACA bid for work that we outsourced. They were not successful. We had to give it to the most competitive supplier. FRS Farm Relief Services won that contract.

We have an ongoing relationship with the ACA in that we still buy services from private consultants. They also buy services from us. We set up the ConnectEd programme in recent years to cater to that demand as well as the wider demand for private consultants who are not members of the ACA and do not want to be part of a consultants' organisation. We provided services to them under the knowledge transfer, KT, programme, which was in operation for the last three years and concluded in July. It was obligatory for advisers to implement the profit monitor technique and draw up a nutrient management and fertiliser plan for the farm. We supply the software for both of those tasks. The only requirement is a fee to cover the cost of the support service. We employ somebody on a contract basis to support those services. Clients do not pay commercial rates for the software. They pay a reduced rated. As I say, they are customers of the ConnectEd programme, along with others. Many people buy those services from us, including solicitors' practices.

A report by Mr. Jim Power was launched recently. One of the recommendations was for us to formalise our working relationships through a memorandum of understanding. We are very open to that and we look forward to agreeing that memorandum. We hope to have the opportunity to work with the ACA. Its members reach a large clientele that we cannot reach with our current staff numbers. They are needed, and we feel obligated to support them fully.

Individually, we have working relationships at local level and at national level. For about the first six years of my ten years in this job we had a very good relationship. We sat down with the executives of the ACA twice a year and worked out issues around GLAS and other schemes that were very hot at the time. However, the ACA is a voluntary organisation. It is an NGO that appoints a president every year or every second year, so we find it quite difficult to have a continuous relationship with it. Depending on who is in office, we may work very well with them or we may not. I hope that answers the question.