Agricultural education gives most to society, Teagasc study finds

Family farm income per hectare is 50 per cent higher for agriculturally educated farmers

Agricultural education gives a far higher rate of return to the individual and the State than other post-secondary education, new research from Teagasc has found.

Prof Cathal O'Donoghue, who co-authored The Economic Returns to Formal Agricultural Education said the rate of return, or profit on investment, of agricultural education to the individual was 8.8 per cent, compared with a 5.8 per cent return from other post-secondary education.

He said the return to society in terms of the farmers’ output was two to three times higher than the return to society from other post-secondary education.

When processing and exports were taken into account, the rate of return rose to more than 24 per cent.


“This, by anybody’s terms, is a very substantial return.”

Conservative estimates

Prof O’Donoghue said the researchers were at pains to use the most conservative estimates throughout the study.

“We could have come up with much higher numbers but in each case we’ve tried to take the most conservative estimates to give a realistic picture in terms of the returns.”

The study found that family farm income per hectare was about 50 per cent higher for farmers with agricultural education than for those who did not take further education after school.

His co-author Dr Kevin Heanue said family farm income was highest where the farmer had completed some formal agricultural education. Education improved a farmer's technical efficiency leading to better use of resources.

The study said farmers with agricultural education were more likely to adopt new technologies or products earlier than others because of their access to information and their ability to distinguish between promising and unpromising innovations.

They were more likely to voluntarily test soil quality and reseed more land. They were also more likely to consider growing bio-energy crops and be prepared to grow genetically-modified crops.

Dr Heanue said the percentage of farmers with a formal agricultural education increased from 24 per cent to 44 per cent between 2000 and 2011.

There was a greater increase in the proportion of farmers achieving an agricultural certificate, going to agriculture college or attending short courses compared with those doing university level agricultural training.

“In the dairy, tillage and mixed livestock systems, the proportion of farmers with a formal agricultural qualification exceeded the average for all farmers, whereas for the cattle rearing and cattle other systems, it was below average.”

Unprecedented increase

The findings were released by Teagasc director Prof

Gerry Boyle

at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. He noted the “unprecedented” increase in demand for Teagasc courses.

“Enrolments in our colleges have grown massively from 2007/2008 when we were under 700, to today’s levels where enrolments are in the order of 1,500 students, and that’s in our colleges only.”

Teagasc head of education Tony Pettit said more than 3,700 learners took part in Teagasc further education or Teagasc-linked higher education every year.

A further 3,000 to 5,000 did accredited and non-accredited short courses and lifelong learning courses.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times