Cash-strapped Teagasc faces huge challenges

TEAGASC bosses were poring over the detail of the Budget today, as the organisation struggles with dwindling resources which have left it paying out nearly 80% of its grant-in-aid from the Government in salaries and pensions.

The director of the agriculture and food development authority, Dr Gerry Boyle, had admitted last week that he and his staff were waiting with bated breath for yesterday’s announcements.

Having already been heavily affected by the public sector employment moratorium, the organisation has had to cope with more than 100 retirements this year.

Although many state organisations do not administer their own pensions, Teagasc does, and must pay pensions of €40m per year out of its government grant-in-aid, which was €131 million in 2008. After this year’s spate of retirements, the pensions burden is even heavier.

Even before yesterday’s Budget (which was announced after the Farming section went to press), Dr Gerry Boyle revealed that Teagasc probably has to close half of the 91 advisory offices it had at the start of this year. Earlier this year, it announced plans to close 18 of the offices.

Dr Boyle told members of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists of Ireland, when they visited the Moorepark research centre last week, that Teagasc faces huge challenges in helping the farm and food industries cope with volatility in commodity prices, the next reform of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, the emerging high level of debt on farms, climate change adaptation, the EU Soil Directive, intense advisory needs as required after the recent flooding setback for farmers, and food processing rationalisation.

But the organisation has succeeded against the odds, with Dr Boyle pointing to Teagasc’s role in the use of genomics in dairy cattle breeding, in which Ireland is now the European leader, thanks to the efforts of Teagasc and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation.

Genomic selection has earned an eight to one payback on research work, according to the Teagasc director, and will add €8m per year to the Irish dairy industry earnings.

Teagasc researchers are now working on introducing genomics into beef cattle breeding in Ireland, where the payoff is predicted at €20m per year.

But more funding will be needed to realise the aim of Teagasc and the ICBF of making genomically selected bulls in AI available to beef farmers in the spring of 2011.


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