Budget constraints force organisation to look at private college funding

TEAGASC director Gerry Boyle has said some of the urgently needed extra funding for the organisation will have to come from farmers.

He warned of major cuts in services, and said seeking contributions from across the agricultural and processing sectors could be examined.

The discretionary or non-pay resources which determine the level of service Teagasc can offer slumped from €59 million in 2008 to €46m last year — and there will be a further reduction of about €6.2m in 2010.

State funding would continue to be needed for public good services, like the environment, and for agri-exports and competitiveness.

“The current climate is not the best time to suggest to farm organisations that they should contribute a little bit more. Nonetheless, we feel that some sort of tripartite funding arrangement will have to become more widespread in the future.”

The projected 33% fall in non-pay resources since 2008 has huge implications across the organisation, with the private agricultural colleges, and Teagasc’s service to the pigs industry, under immediate threat. The pigs facility at Moorepark in Co Cork is nearly 40 years old, and badly in need of refurbishment. Teagasc services to the pigs industry cannot continue without replenishing that facility and investing in a new one, Mr Boyle told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

“We have a major difficulty with the remaining private colleges. There are three such colleges providing agricultural education, in Pallaskenry, Mountbellew, and Gurteen in Co Tipperary. It costs us approximately €4m per year, because Teagasc must subvent the staff. We contribute to the upkeep of the colleges, but also subvent the students through maintenance grants, and so on. The problem is that the €4m comes from our non-pay budget. I referred to the fact that this budget is really squeezed and we are under severe pressure in that respect.”

Vacancies that arise in the private colleges cannot be filled because of the recruitment embargo.

“Even if we had surplus staff within the Teagasc organisation, we could not transfer them to the private colleges,” revealed Mr Boyle.

“The very least the colleges will have to do is refuse entry in the autumn because there will be fewer staff. More critically, one cannot offer an education programme in any area, particularly in agriculture, without a minimum number of core staff. We are actively engaged in discussions on this with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Finance.”

Teagasc works with about 40,000 farmers, which works out at 130 clients per adviser.

“We still receive the individual fees farmers are happy to pay to get the one-to-one advice they need.”

However, more than half of them are REPS clients. “Obviously, the removal of REPS creates uncertainty about whether those clients will remain with Teagasc,” said the director.


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