BY CON DOWNING
TEAGASC needs clarity on what staff will be available to it over the next five years, according board member Alan Jagoe, as reduced numbers struggle to help a growing number of farmers achieve the targets set out in Food Harvest 2020.
Chairing the launch of Teagasc’s Cork West Advisory Region Strategic Plan 2015- 2020 at Fernhill House Hotel, Clonakilty, on Tuesday, the former national president of Macra na Feirme, from Nohoval, stated that because of the government embargo on recruitment, which Teagasc is bound by, advisors are carrying unsustainable workloads. The embargo has meant that the ratio has gone from 100 clients per advisor to 250 in the past five years and also, because of fewer administrative staff, advisors are forced to take on more administrative work, becoming confined to their offices for longer periods of time.
Mr Jagoe threw down the gauntlet to politicians to have the recruitment embargo lifted so that advisors can give the quality of service they all aspire to. Officially launching the new strategy, Jim Daly, TD, accepted the challenge, undertaking to make representations to Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and the Minister for Agriculture, Food, the Marine and Defence Simon Coveney, TD. He saw no reason why, when the embargo no longer apply to demand-led services, such as health and education, it could not be relaxed for Teagasc, given the huge potential the agricultural sector has over the next five years so as to help farmers get the best from it.
The number of Teagasc offices in West Cork has dropped from six to three – Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Macroom – and, according to regional manager Billy Kelleher, the area has 2% of the organisation’s staff dealing with 10% of the national dairy herd and milk quota. He said that Teagasc is ‘committed to delivering high-quality support to the industry locally and to working in close association with farmer clients, State agencies and local partners in achieving the 2020 targets.
‘This process has provided us with a set of solid strategic actions for the next five years,’ he said.
‘Following consultation with our stakeholders we anticipate an increase in the order of 35 to 40% in milk supplies in the region over the next five years.’
Teagasc advisors John McNamara, Michael Connolly and Anne Malone set out targets in their respective areas of dairying, drystock and the environment. Tom Kelly, Teagasc head of Knowledge Transfer, commended Billy Kelleher and his staff ‘for telling it as it is’ and spoke of the need to get the message on the necessity for recruitment through to the powers-that-be at local and national level.
Farmers present at the launch emphasised how vital it is that Teagasc remains a totally independent advisory body.