IT WAS fitting that Dublin Castle should have been the venue to mark the 50th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of An Foras Talúntais (AFT), the Agriculture Research Institute, which now forms part of Teagasc.
The authority has a remarkable record in providing public-funded quality research and leadership, which has helped to modernise and develop the country’s most important indigenous industry — farming and food.
The establishment and development of AFT under the visionary guidance of the late Dr Tom Walsh coincided with a period of revolutionary thinking in national economic policy.
Ken Whitaker’s Economic Development and the highly innovatory First Programme for Economic Expansion, both published in 1958, prioritised productive investment in agricultural development.
More than 60% of the state’s total national exports at that time were from agriculture and production was relatively static for a considerable period.
AFT put in place a national programme of research to underpin the dramatic developments in Irish agriculture, and enabled it to benefit from access to new markets.
It initially set out to help farmers increase productivity and income, broadening its research activities over the years as the policy environment, market conditions and latterly growing consumer demands set new priorities for research.
In 1988, the formation of Teagasc, following a merger with ACOT, the advisory service, created an integrated agriculture research advisory and education service.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Brendan Smith said the establishment of AFT was critical to the subsequent development of Irish agriculture.
Marshall Aid funds from the United States were vital in enabling it to set up a network of research centres and stations that were fundamental in bringing it close to farmers.
“The last two decades have seen unprecedented advances in the sciences that underpin agriculture and food.
“Our industry must have the support of scientific research at least as good as that available to foreign competitors,” he said.
Mr Smith said Teagasc’s role into the future will be to support the Irish bio-economy in playing a central role in the “knowledge economy” through supporting innovation by farms and firms.
Professor Gerry Boyle, the current director of Teagasc, said a great deal has been achieved over the past 50 years and this is in no small part due to the high-quality people recruited into the organisation.
“Irish producers and processors must confront ever greater challenges in the global marketplace and the existence of a strong research function fully integrated with advisory and training services is an essential component of that future,” he said.
Teagasc’s future role in transforming Ireland’s agrifood industry and the wider bio-economy is now set out in its Foresight Report, which predicts that the gross output value of farming and food production could double to €40 billion by 2030.
Dr Tom O’Dwyer, chairman, said it is an important report because it looks at the skills and structures needed for a science- based organisation like Teagasc to support the information driven economy of the future.
“Teagasc is uniquely positioned as its research function is fully integrated with an advisory and education service for farmers and the rural economy. This puts Teagasc in an important leadership position, not just to influence and set the agenda for change, but to follow it through with actions in the critical areas of research, advice and education,” he said.
A glance at the profile stats in its website www.teagasc.ie reveals the vast contribution that Teagasc is making to Irish life. It employs over 1,600 staff in 100 locations and has an annual operating budget in excess of €170m.
Around 75% of its yearly budget comes from the Irish exchequer and EU funding with the balance generated from earned income. About 40% of the budget is devoted to research with the remainder split between advisory and training services.
Research services are provided by 200 scientists and 300 technicians at nine dedicated centres. There are 550 advisors and specialists located at regional, county and local offices. Eight colleges and local training-research centres are staffed by lecturers, technicians and education officers.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, speaking at a celebratory dinner in Dublin Castle, said Teagasc can be justifiably proud of its contribution to the development of a vibrant agrifood sector by providing a strong research base and a comprehensive advisory service over many years.
Minister Lenihan said substantial public funding has been provided over the years to modernise and equip the organisation as it adapted and changed with the evolving agriculture sector.
Outlining the Government’s ongoing support for Teagasc, he said it has committed €640m to support high-end agrifood research over the lifetime of the National Development Plan.
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