Valuable new measures announced for qualified farmers aged 40 or under

Q&A: Keith Kennedy, Teagasc
Valuable new measures announced for qualified farmers aged 40 or under

Attracting young qualified people into farming was an important objective for Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in the €12.5bn programme of Common Agricultural Policy and exchequer funding announced last week.

It includes a direct payments top-up of 25% for five years to farmers aged under 40, and allocation from the new national reserve of payment entitlements on a priority basis to young farmers.

The payments top-up is equivalent to a grant, over the course of five years, of up to €16,000 on 50 hectares. But the priority for payment entitlements from the national reserve could be worth even more to young, qualified farmers.

Mr Coveney also announced on-farm capital investment support ring-fenced for young farmers (60% grants compared to a general rate of 40%); young farmers are likely to benefit in particular from the €20m per year expenditure to help embed best practice and innovative solutions across the agri-food sector; and financial support to set up collaborative farming arrangements is of particular interest to young people as a pathway to commence farming.

These new measures are in addition to existing stock relief and stamp duty relief for young trained farmers.

There are also tax measures benefiting young farmers which facilitate succession and land mobility such as retirement relief on capital gains tax and agricultural relief from capital acquisition tax.

For the new measures announced last week, a farmer must be aged 40 or under in their first year of application to the basic payment scheme, having established their holding within the previous five years. Successful applicants will also have completed a recognised course of education in agriculture, giving rise to a FETAC Level 6 award or its equivalent.

Feb 1 is the closing date for application through the CAO for some Level 6 courses (see our CAO guide on page 12). But the closing date is May 30 for most Level 6 aspirants who go the agricultural college routes, says Keith Kennedy, acting principal in Teagasc’s Clonakilty Agricultural College.

* How can students achieve the Green Cert or Level 6 qualification in Teagasc courses?

>>The Green Cert refers to a list of agriculture courses or agricultural science courses which qualifies a person as a ‘trained farmer’. In Teagasc you must obtain a FETAC Level 6 Advanced Certificate or a FETAC Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration to achieve a ‘Green Cert’.

Since last year, Teagasc has been offering two educational routes that lead to awards that are recognised educational courses in agriculture. The ‘Teagasc Green Cert’ was a term that has been in circulation for many years. We now refer to this when talking about the Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration. This route is the preferred option for people that wish to meet the minimum educational requirement.

The alternative route is the Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Agriculture (ACA). This course is designed to give you a deeper understanding of a specific farm enterprise (dairy, beef/sheep, etc).

There are many ways to obtain one of these qualifications in Teagasc, including full-time education in a Teagasc college, or part-time in one of the 12 Teagasc Regional Education Centres.

You should contact your local Teagasc office or agricultural college if you have any further queries, or check out the prospectus of courses at www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2899/CourseProspectus2014.pdf.

* What is the most common Level 6 option?

>>Around 60% of college students choose to complete the Teagasc Green Cert option, with 40% looking for a full Level 6 ACA in their second year. In order to choose either of these options, an agricultural college student has to first achieve a level 5 qualification. New students will start their level 5 course next September. The Level 5 Certificate in Agriculture takes place in the colleges from September until February, and then the students spend 12 weeks completing a practical learning period on a farm chosen by Teagasc.

The Level 6 ACA option in the agricultural colleges allows you to major either in dairy, drystock, tillage, or farm machinery. All options are not available in each of the colleges, and you need to apply directly to your preferred college at the end of the Level 5 course.

Students are normally admitted into these courses in June, following the completion of Level 5 in May. The Level 6 option incorporates a second 12-week placement and, as you have around six months to complete this, many take the opportunity to travel overseas and complete a foreign placement. Following the placement, you return to the college to complete 20 weeks of course-work.

The other option after the Level 5 year is the Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration. This involves less contact in year two with the agricultural college. Instead, you complete a lot of year two on your home farm. You are required to keep detailed records of farming activity (a six-month management diary and 12 months of financial records); you must complete a series of projects on your home farm and attend five meetings on a benchmarking farm.

There is also some block release course work in the college. Unlike other Teagasc Level 6 awards, the Specific Purpose Certificate does not allow you to progress to Level 7 or 8 courses. It qualifies you for the new direct schemes announced for under-40s, and for the existing stock relief and stamp duty relief for farmers aged under 35.

*What requirements are needed to start studying a Teagasc course leading to Level 6 qualification?

>>The entry requirement for Level 6 is to have completed Level 5, and the entry requirement for Level 5 is that you would have completed the senior cycle in secondary school, or be aged over 17 on the Jan 1 after you commence the course in September. You should apply directly to the college of your choice before the end of May, and sit an entrance exam on Jun 25.

* Is it hard to get into an agricultural college?

>>In the past three years at Clonakilty, we have had sufficient student places available, and we haven’t had to turn away any students. Some of the other colleges would not have offered places to all applicants, so it is important that you apply before the end of May.

* What courses are available for older students returning to agriculture?

>>The Teagasc Distance Education Green Cert for Non-Agricultural Award Holders is designed for those coming back from other trades/professions or educational studies. It has been developed to meet the training requirements for full-time or part-time farmers that hold a non-agricultural Level 6 or higher major award qualification.

It comprises two separate awards, the Level 5 Certificate in Agriculture and the Level 6 Specific Purpose Certificate in Farm Administration. At this stage, it is anticipated that the next application period will take place in autumn 2014.

For people over 23 years of age that do not have any prior qualification, there is the option to complete the Level 5 in the college. The difference for people that are over 23 is they have the option to complete the 12-week practical learning period on their home farm. They can then complete the Specific Purpose Certificate as outlined earlier.

There are also opportunities to complete the Level 5 on a part-time basis through Teagasc’s Regional Educational Centres, but most centres have recently started these courses. You need to contact your local REC to get more specific information.

* Can a Level 6 qualification be achieved through distance learning, without having to attend a college, through the internet, for example?

>>As mentioned above, the distance learning option is there for people who have a non-agricultural award. The idea that this option involves no attendance at a college, or a farm chosen by the course director, for the delivery and assessment of skills and exams, should be dispelled. In reality, while the classroom element of the Level 5 and Level 6 course is vastly diminished, you should expect to attend a formal setting for something in the region of 25-30 days over the course of 18 months.

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