Hiring ban sees Teagasc turn away students


TWO HUNDRED and fifty students who wanted to take agricultural courses had to be turned away by Teagasc this year because of the Government moratorium on hiring staff, it emerged yesterday.

Prof Gerry Boyle, director of the agriculture and food development authority, said the students could not get on the courses because they could not hire the teachers. At the launch of the organisation’s 2009 annual report, he said agricultural courses were unlike other educational courses because there was a health and safety element due to the machinery and livestock involved.

Teagasc courses attract large numbers of students into agriculture. In 2009, 1,577 new students enrolled, bringing the total number of students participating in Teagasc-run courses to 3,222.

In addition, he said, 10,800 adult farmers completed short training courses. The biggest categories were Reps and health and safety training courses.

The moratorium had also created major difficulties because of the loss of highly specialised personnel who could not be replaced and, as a result, research suffered.

Prof Boyle said Teagasc had lost its plant pathologist and badly needed a replacement, which was not possible because of the moratorium as new diseases and problems were continuously emerging.

Despite that, he said, the organisation, which employs 1,313 people, had reconfigured itself to meet the cuts with a view to providing the best possible service possible.

“Opportunities to expand agricultural output have been identified in the Food Harvest 2020 report and Teagasc is committed to supporting the agriculture and food industry to deliver those ambitious targets,” he said.

Teagasc director of knowledge transfer Dr Tom Kelly said the advisory service was providing a service to over 40,000 farmers and, in 2009, nearly half of the applications for single-farm payments processed for farmers were done online.

Prof Boyle said that to meet the challenges of cuts in income, close to 40 offices across the country had been closed down and staff transferred to the areas of most need.

Land used for research had been sold and research facilities and laboratories centralised in a move to pre-empt the McCarthy proposals and to work within budgets.

The financial statement for the year showed the average number of monthly pensions paid out by Teagasc last year was 1,482, compared with 1,432, the previous year. It also showed the authority members had received €124,000 in fees and emoluments and they had received €28,000 in expenses last year, compared with €56,000 in the previous year.

Prof Boyle said there was an air of optimism about the future, and the recovery in dairy and grain prices had given a new confidence for the future.

“But the downturn in the wider economy is now having a bigger impact on the incomes of farm households thought the loss of off-farm employment and reduced earnings off-farm,” he said.