Young trainee farmers are getting a "raw deal" on a small minority of host farms where they do their placements for the Green Cert, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA).

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said: “I want to see fair play for all trainee farmers on placement. I have personally been contacted in a number of cases where the trainee was treated as a source of cheap labour doing the same repetitive task over and over and where learning opportunities were severely constrained.”

The ICSA president said he is making representations to Teagasc on a review of placement protocols to ensure young trainee farmers have a positive experience.

Teagasc announced on Wednesday that such a review of the practical learning elements of its courses, which included students, host farmers, staff, and stakeholders, is nearing completion.

‘Duty of care’

Kelleher said that while the “majority of host farms do an excellent job”, Teagasc needs to “continuously seek out new farms and pay attention to their duty of care to young trainees”.

“Teagasc must ensure that host farms understand fully the commitment in taking in trainees, including the provision of suitable accommodation, the right to reasonable working hours and conditions and time off, proper sustenance and above all the need to treat people with respect.

“At a time when we are seeing some progress on encouraging more female farmers, it is now more important than ever to review how the system works and to ensure that every host farm is carefully vetted on an ongoing basis,” he said.

‘Invaluable experience’

The Cork farmer said that for the majority of Teagasc students, “an on-farm placement is a superb way of gaining invaluable experience and knowledge”.

“However, trainees should not be cheap tractor drivers for the entirety of the experience, nor should they spend all their time doing pure manual work that nobody else wants to do. It is fine to expect trainees to pick stones for a day or fork out dung but if the sum total of the placement is pure grunt work, then there is no value in the placement and the host farmer should pay a labourer the going rate,” he said.

He highlighted that the ICSA is “concerned that the trainees are not given a fair hearing while on placement” and called for a process through which “every trainee should be offered at least two private interviews with different Teagasc supervisors who have no conflict of interest”.

“Host farms who are the subject of complaint from more than one trainee should have their role reviewed and where they are found to breach the spirit of the scheme there should be sanctions including temporary or permanent suspension as host farms,” he said.

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