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Teagasc’s annual report for 2016, published this Wednesday, shows increasing revenue and replenishment of staff lost during the recession, but management says public salary levels are too low.

Teagasc’s 2016 payroll expenditure topped €70m for the first time since 2012 as the agency hired new staff following the lifting of the recruitment freeze imposed during the recession.

This does not include the cost of pensions, which are paid directly by Teagasc. Accounts show a €44m pension charge last year, down from €50m in 2015.

“Because of the lifting of the recruitment embargo, we’ve been able to replenish some advisers but not all of them,” said Teagasc director Prof Gerry Boyle. The agency was allowed to conduct its own recruitment within a €63.2m budget last year and Prof Boyle expects this to increase in the coming years.

’Very uncompetitive’ starting salaries

However, Teagasc remains constrained by the public sector salary scale, with €31,000 a typical starting salary at the agency, which Prof Boyle described as “very uncompetitive”.

“One of the areas of highest demand is bio-informatics,” he said in reference to staff able to analyse genetics information. “It’s nearly impossible to recruit staff in this one at the moment because of the attractive conditions in the commercial sector.”

However, Prof Boyle said that Teagasc was not aiming to restore staff numbers to pre-recession levels, with different models now in place, such as the outsourcing of facilitation under a number of rural development schemes to partners such as FRS.

Knowledge Transfer

This activity, which includes Knoweldge Transfer group facilitation and training courses under the GLAS and BDGP schemes, was Teagasc’s fastest-growing income stream last year. The 32% increase in such fees boosted the agency’s income by €6.6m, while increases in grant aid added another €5.6m.

Overall, Teagasc returned a €6m surplus last year, although its chair Dr Noel Cawley insisted that any money carried over was attached to ongoing schemes and pension liabilities. “We spend what we get in,” he said.

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