Private agricultural advisers are not just form-fillers, they’re at the coalface, with specialists across all sectors, president of the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) Tom Canning has said.
Canning has been in the advisory business 33 years now and this week told the Irish Farmers Journal that private advisers are “no fly by night operation”.
The ACA has made no secret of the fact that it wants to collaborate with Teagasc and give its farmer clients State-funded information.
When I look at it, there’s five key challenges ahead
Canning said that last week’s Irish Farmers Journal story on Teagasc and whether its advice was fit for purpose was “accurate” in terms of an analysis of their current setup.
He said that Teagasc has around 43,000 clients, while the ACA has around 55,000.
“When I look at it, there’s five key challenges ahead. The first is the consumer. What they want is changing. They want security of supply, high-quality food that is fully traceable with high welfare standards.
“The second is the environment, to include greenhouse gases, water quality and biodiversity, then the CAP, then Brexit and its fallout which is being reflected in the price of materials, and, finally, Mercosur.
“These are all going to have serious effects on farm incomes and we need an advisory service that is fit for purpose,” he says.
“The problem we have is that the flow of the latest research data to farmers is fundamentally flawed at the moment. There’s 90,000 farmers outside of Teagasc’s system. Teagasc advisers are supported by sectoral specialists linked to research but if a farmer comes to me in the morning that link is broken.
I’m not asking for our wages to be paid, but we would like access to the latest profit monitors, nutrient management planning system and other systems
“We need a reform of the advisory service. We’re competing against State-funded advisory services.
“I’m not asking for our wages to be paid, but we would like access to the latest profit monitors, nutrient management planning system and other systems that benefit Teagasc farmer clients, which have been paid for by all farmers through the State subsidy.
“Unlike Teagasc, we have no set annual fees. Farmers are employing private advisers because we’re experienced, we’re professional and provide trusted advice.”
ACA operating on a ‘limited budget’
“If we have a supported back office, then Teagasc and all other Government agencies can link in with us and the research/information and new innovations can thereafter be shared with our members and farmer clients across the country.
We haven’t been shouting from the rooftops about this
“We operate presently on a limited budget and our funding is predominantly from membership fees but we are continuously exploring new ways to help with the development of our association.
“We haven’t been shouting from the rooftops about this, but we have built structures, we have a part-time general secretary, we have financial traceability.
“We are not a fly by night operation and we deserve to be treated on an equal basis to Teagasc.”
“Teagasc personnel are our former classmates. We work well at ground level.
“Now we need to formalise arrangements between the two organisations.
“Unless there is collaboration across the entire sector, then it is going to be more difficult to meet our targets. We’ve been calling for this for four years and any day that goes by is a day when we could have been working together. This is not lip service. There is enough business for everyone.
We want it to be more practical and less bureaucratic
“We just need a level playing field. That back office support would cost the Exchequer very little.”
Canning says that knowledge transfer (KT) is out at the minute under CAP and that it’s due to come back.
“We want it to be more practical and less bureaucratic.
“COVID-19 has also had a huge effect on isolation. KT should be more practical-based with more meaningful farm plans.
“This will be focused to individual farm level with key targets.
“Farmers will then be able to join a KT group and achieve those targets together.”