TEAGASC could becomea zombie research and development organisation if some of the cuts now being mooted for its budget go ahead, it was claimed yesterday.
Professor Gerry Boyle, director of the organisation, said everyone accepts that difficult decisions will have to be taken to address the imbalance in the public finances.
“We in Teagasc have already taken some difficult decisions, with a far reaching change plan for the organisation agreed last March. The budget was reduced for 2009 by €13 million.
“To manage that significant reduction we have had to close advisory offices. We have had to exit from research facilities.
“And we have had to remodel how we deliver our educational service. The implementation of that rationalisation plan is well under way,” he said.
Professor Boyle warned that some of the reductions now being mooted for the Teagasc budget would simply leave the organisation in a position where it would be unable to deliver its services with any kind of effectiveness and credibility.
“If the cuts are too severe then long-term damage will be done not just to Teagasc, but also to the farming and food industries here,” he said.
Professor Boyle, who was speaking at the Agricultural Science Association conference in Dublin, said significant reductions in staff numbers and office locations are being suggested by some commentators.
“The numbers being put forward are wholly unrealistic in my view. As part of the Teagasc change plan, the number of office locations is being reduced by 18 in the first phase, and some of those have already closed this summer.
“But the number of locations now being suggested in some quarters would compromise the organisation’s ability to deliver a national advisory service. Wise decisions are now required,” he said.
Professor Boyle said it is critically important that the strengths in the Irish economy, and the sectors and industries that have been built up in a sustainable way over generations, are not damaged.
He said he believed the farming and agriculture industries will be among the first sectors to begin to emerge from the current downturn.
He said that might sound like wishful thinking at the moment, with milk and grain prices where they are, and farm families facing unprecedented difficulties.
But Irish farm businesses are inherently sustainable and they will be there for the next generation. Farmers themselves believe this.
“Otherwise, we would not be seeing the dramatic increase in the number of students choosing agriculture as a career, and we would not have seen the massive on-farm investments that farmers have made over the last few years.
“Teagasc has seen its student intake increase by 83% since 2006, a fact that seems to have been overlooked in the recommendations of some commentators,” he said.
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