I read an article a few weeks back about a Department of Agriculture economics division report on the need for Teagasc to improve research uptake on beef and sheep farms in particular. It acknowledged it was a challenge to encourage less profitable farmers to engage with research.
It reminded me of a contract-rearing event I attended a number of years ago. The parting advice given was that anyone with suckler cows should consider selling them and contract-rear heifers for their dairy farming neighbours and while they’re at it you could go and milk the cows for them as well.
Clearly the advice we had been given had an impact on him
Afterwards, a dairy farming acquaintance walked by and roared, “now” into my face as he passed. Clearly the advice we had been given had an impact on him but I never figured out what statement he was trying to make.
When you’ve been spoken down to for so long, you eventually stop listening. You become disillusioned with these events and ultimately disconnected from the advisory system.
There’s an element of wariness too.
I wonder did those who planned dairy expansion get so caught up in the potential strengths and opportunities offered that they forgot to consider the threats and weaknesses in the SWOT analysis. In their defence, the upsides were rewarding. But given how those threats and weaknesses have gained prominence, notably in the situation Glanbia milk suppliers find themselves in, are you more or less likely to trust those behind the policy?
Now, you can have whatever information you need (or want to agree with) in seconds
Combine those factors with the power and influence the internet and social media have brought. In the past, a phone call to an adviser or an on-farm visit would provide answers to queries. Or they would be sent back to the office with questions. Now, you can have whatever information you need (or want to agree with) in seconds. On top of that, you can also engage with those who think the same as you. There are pros and cons to that, but either way it’s now possible.
That’s the climate Teagasc has to contend with, certainly in the drystock sector. Over the last decade, the attendance and signature requirement of some farm schemes kept some level of engagement with research but not all. What can be done to reconnect?
I’m not suggesting you tell people what they want to hear for the sake of it, that’s of no value bar placating them. But I feel there’s a missed opportunity in focusing so much on a top-down approach to advisory services.
Surely there is scope for a bit more forward or even local thinking
Corporate structures don’t lend themselves to facilitating loose cannons or those who think a bit differently. But is there something to be gained from doing so? Farms aren’t necessarily franchises where the same method works everywhere and every time.
Surely there is scope for a bit more forward or even local thinking. It will require advisers with initiative to be given a bit of slack to wander off the narrative a little. It might also win back those who feel Teagasc has no relevance to them.
Research has to evolve too. How will Irish livestock farming outside the dairy catchments look in 2040 and beyond? A combination of smaller families, access to higher education and technology along with policy changes will mean it will look different to now.