Q & A: Discussion groups offer a platform for real progress

At the Teagasc/Kerry Agribusiness Joint Industry Programme’s recent 25th anniversary celebration in Awbeg, Lixnaw, were: Majella Moloney, Teagasc regional manager; Seán McCarthy, Kerry Agribusiness; Prof Gerry Boyle, director, Teagasc; Eddie and Pádraig McCarthy, host farmers; John Collins, Kerry Agribusiness; Nora O’Donovan, Teagasc adviser; and Ger Courtney, programme co-ordinator.

There were about 80 Teagasc discussion groups around the country this month.

What is a discussion group?

Discussion groups consist of local farmers who meet regularly on farms to see, discuss and learn about technologies and practices that may be applied on their own farms. Typically discussion groups consist of 10 to 15 farmers, who meet between six and 12 times per year.

How can a Teagasc Discussion Group benefit you?

Make more money

Research shows that farmers in discussion groups make more money than farmers who aren’t, because technologies are more rapidly adopted.

A good social network

Farming can be lonely. Difficult weather and market conditions can make the going really tough at times. Groups get you out of your own working environment and give you a chance to share your farming experiences, good or bad, with likeminded individuals.

Personal development

Discussion group members learn how to interact with others, share information and grow their self-confidence. Many farmers have gone on to contribute to the industry or their local community following their personal development in groups — e.g. chairperson of local sports club, community group etc.

Get technical information at the right time

Discussion group members have a mix of experience and educational qualifications. Timely technical information from fellow discussion group members, facilitators, can help make the best decisions for what you face on your farm that month.

Public responsibility

Groups pride themselves in creating a positive public perception of farming and the environment that they work and live in. This helps to enhance the image of food production aswell as local countryside management.

You’ll do more planning

Good discussion groups tend to formulate an annual plan with scheduled meetings for the year. Members replicate this annual plan for their farming practices e.g. start date for breeding, end date of breeding etc. This provides structure to your farming year and a better lifestyle.

Positivity

Progress made by discussion group members is underpinned by the positive support that they receive from their group. Farming constantly changes, being with a positive group will help you deal better with these changes.

Benchmarking performance

On many farms off-farm income acts as a cushion for the farm finances. Completing the annual Teagasc Profit Monitor puts focus on farming finance. Group members say the Teagasc Profit Monitor result’s meeting is the most important of the year.

Awareness of schemes

A sizeable portion of drystock income comes from successful participation in schemes like GLAS, BDGP, BEEP etc. Your facilitator and fellow members can contribute advice on the rules of these schemes and their appropriateness for group members.

Problem solving

Someone else in the group has seen it happen before and can point you in the right direction. This is crucial during a crisis.

What do group members say about the experience?

“The social aspect has been vital in keeping the group together over the years. Being able to share your farming experiences and use group meetings to solve problems on your farm is invaluable.”

“I hosted a group meeting in July. I was in denial about the drought, thinking we’d have rain any day.

“After the meeting, I then followed the plan set out by the group. I was in control of my forage situation for the rest of the drought and had my winter feed sorted.”

Where can I get more information on discussion groups?

An online version of the new booklet, 10 Benefits of joining a Teagasc Discussion Group, can be downloaded from the publications section of the www.teagasc.ie website.

It includes a contacts list of telephone numbers and email addresses for 28 Teagasc regional offices who will put you in contact with a local facilitator that will find a discussion group for you.

Also, if like-minded farmers come together, a new group can be formed.

A Teagasc client can opt to become a group member for €100-€150 depending on their farm size and structure.

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