Demand for courses with the agriculture development and training agency Teagasc has grown to an unprecedented level due to a new requirement that farmers applying for some Government schemes have a recognised qualification.
Teagasc director Prof Gerry Boyle said the organisation would normally take in about 500 students a year at its training centres across the country, split roughly 50:50 between full-time and part-time.
However, last year some 1,500 students signed up for courses and this year demand was running in excess of 5,000, he said.
Publishing the agency’s annual report and financial statements for 2014, Prof Boyle said the increase in demand in the last year or so was “to a large extent, unexpected”.
He said the reason for the increase was the requirement in the Rural Development Programme that those applying for assistance through the Young Farmer Scheme and the National Development Scheme have a so-called “green cert” qualification.
“That has led to an unprecedented demand for green cert courses,” Prof Boyle said.
The organisation has written to everyone who has expressed an interest in its courses twice since the summer and has received responses from about half indicating they intend to pursue an application.
“Our physical capacity to take in students at our regional colleges is somewhere north of 2,000.
“We can squeeze some in if we have to. The real constraint has been on teaching staff,” Prof Boyle said.
“Last year, we got leave to recruit 20 contract teachers to deal with the 1,500.
"When we saw what was emerging this year we looked for 20 staff in July, but the numbers kept on growing, so we got 20 extra staff on a two-year contract in July and at the moment we are in discussions with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about recruiting an additional 30 to enable us to take on roughly 2,000-plus students that are in the system."
Prof Boyle also reminded people that the deadline for the next enrolment year had been brought forward from September next year to the end of December this year.
“As far as Teagasc is concerned, we are pulling out all the stops to be able to accommodate the students that have to enrol this year to enable them to get their full entitlements and we have a system in place.”
He said its moratorium on recruitment had been lifted and in the past month Teagasc had been given discretion to make new staff appointments, with a €63.2 million cap on the total permanent pay bill for 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Twenty new front-line advisers will be recruited, bringing the total to 234.
Seven college teachers or education officers will be recruited to meet the current demand.
The agency will also recruit 24 research scientists/technologists and three specialists, along with other support staff .
Teagasc chairman Dr Noel Cawley said 2014 had been a good year for most farmers.
“Dairy farmers had a particularly good year, while winter finishing farms had a difficult time.
“By year end it was evident that dairy markets were on a downward trajectory. This trend has continued during 2015. ”
Teagasc had total income of €162.93 million last year, excluding net deferred funding for pensions.
Net surplus of income over expenditure for the year was €625,000 and its reserves balance at year-end was €9.65 million.