Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Thursday, 4 Feb 2010

Annual Report 2008: Discussion with Teagasc.

On behalf of the committee I welcome the representatives from Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, director, Dr. Frank O'Meara, director of research and Mr. James McGrath, assistant director of advisory services.

Before I call on the Teagasc representatives to make their presentation, I draw to their attention the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege, but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now call on Mr. Boyle to make his presentation.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

On behalf of my colleagues I thank the Chairman for the invitation to address the committee. We had a little difficulty with the snow since last December so it is good to be here today.

I have circulated a copy of the presentation which will be available as a PowerPoint presentation. The committee is no doubt aware that like many other organisations, Teagasc is going through a process of substantial change. At yesterday's meeting of our authority it signed off on the next steps of the change programme. My presentation today will bring committee members up to date on the issues involved in that change programme.

With regard to the goals of the rationalisation programme, the first and foremost issue for Teagasc in terms of its ability to deliver its services has been substantial disimprovement in the ratio of our pay to non-pay. This has happened as a result of the budget and it puts huge pressure on our capacity to deliver services. It is compounded by the fact that uniquely among many State agencies, Teagasc's grant-in-aid includes provision for our pensioners. In the past year in particular, accelerated early retirement caused considerable difficulties in funding terms.

Nonetheless, Teagasc in its rationalisation programme is determined to ensure excellence in its our core activities. We are continuously trying to ensure that resources are allocated to key national priority areas and this will mean, in some cases, a reduction in or elimination of activity in some areas considered to be of lower national priority. We are focused in particular on the medium term and our planning is on a three to five-year basis. Teagasc is an organisation with three principal functions: a research function in the agrifood sector, an advisory function and an educational function. In the rationalisation programme we have tried to ensure balance, such that no one area would be singled out above others. No doubt the members of the committee will be aware of the broad set of circumstances we face and have faced in recent years.

I talked earlier about what is emerging as an unsustainable situation, the ratio of pay to non-pay. Pay now absorbs about 76% of our budget with non-pay at 24%. This is down from a ratio of close to 60:40 a couple of years ago and this puts us under severe pressure. Our staff are well paid and well educated and trained but we need resources to enable them to go out into the field and do their job. This is a key problem at present.

The Teagasc grant-in-aid was reduced in 2009 relative to 2008 by about €12 million and it has been reduced for 2010 by €2 million, although some anticipated that it would be far worse. Nonetheless, we are talking about a grant-in-aid reduction of €14 million over two years. The relevant base is about €90 million, a substantial reduction in two years.

I draw the attention of members to the fact that Teagasc has traditionally generated a significant amount of income from external sources, in other words, non-Vote sources. This includes direct fees from farmers and income generated from involvement in competitive tenders for research competitions, both within Ireland and internationally. In the current climate this resource has dried up and we are facing into a drop of €9 million this year in externally generated income.

In March 2009, Teagasc introduced a change programme known as the first steps, the central objective of which is to try and stabilise the ratio of pay to non-pay. I will deal with pensions because I would like the committee to be conscious of the issue. At the beginning of 2009, our initial estimate for the lump sum element of retirement in 2009, based on all the available information, was for a lump sum requirement of €11.4 million. The outturn was closer to €11.6 million. As the year progressed, potential pensioners became very concerned about the security of their pension income and the lump sums and we are all aware of the context. However, this meant that we had to find close to €7 million from our operational budget and which we could not have anticipated. This caused significant difficulty for the organisation and it has eaten into our non-pay resources.

In those circumstances it would be highly imprudent of us not to seek out every available opportunity to reduce overheads and to effect efficiencies. This is what we have tried to do over the past couple of years and what we aim to do in the future. I draw the committee's attention to the fact that we do not have a capital budget nor have we had a capital allocation for the past two years. Any research organisation is required to make investments in its research infrastructure to fulfil the needs of the agrifood industry.

I will give some examples of the kind of investment we will need to make over the next few years. The first one that comes to mind would be our pigs facility in Moorepark which is now nearly 40 years old and badly in need of refurbishment. We cannot continue to service the pigs industry without replenishing that facility and investing in a new one.

Another area of immediate concern is the pressure on both the agrifood and environmental areas as regards climate change and the water framework directive. Within Ireland generally — and within Teagasc, our direct responsibility — the resources devoted to emerging issues on the environmental front are grossly insufficient. We urgently need to make capital investment to produce the kind of research information needed. The only way we can garner the necessary capital funds is to examine our portfolio of property. If we identify opportunities for rationalisation, we may be able to use our portfolio in a strategic way, for the betterment of the sector. In the budget context, the capital need is a critical driving force behind the rationalisation programme that is under way.

Teagasc, like any research, advisory and educational organisation is all about its staff. I am glad that dedicated and quality staff have always been the hallmark of the Teagasc service. We have faced a severe reduction in staff numbers, particularly over the past year. By the middle of this year, more than 200 staff will have departed. As the committee is aware, the contracts of the REPS staff will not be renewed. Two groups of staff left the organisation in June and December of last year. The contracts of the final group will terminate in June of this year. The organisation has also lost a significant number of other officials.

In addition to the loss of skills, which is very serious for a research organisation like Teagasc, we are losing some income-earning capacity. The departure of advisers obviously leaves a void, in terms of their capacity to generate external income. We estimate that this loss will be worth between €7 million and €9 million in 2010. Numbers do not always indicate the real significance of an adjustment of this level. In the past year, the organisation has lost 20 senior researchers through early retirement and normal retirement. In the advisory area, we have lost four programme leaders in key programmes like environment and dairying, to name a couple. That leaves a serious skills void. We are trying to replenish that void through internal redeployment of staff. As the committee knows, we face an embargo on recruitment. The staffing situation requires us to look carefully at all our overheads. In some advisory offices, there will be a significant reduction in staff numbers at the front line. The administrative support system will continue to be expensive. Clearly, that is not sustainable.

A programme of rationalisation is being implemented across all the functions of the organisation. Starting with the advisory service, the key point to note is that by the end of 2012, we expect that there will have been a reduction of close to 40% in all advisory service staff. We also expect a decline in client numbers, although we are holding our own at the moment with approximately 40,000 clients in total. More than half of our clients are REPS clients. Obviously, the removal of REPS creates uncertainty about whether those clients will remain with Teagasc. We will do our best to ensure we offer them services so that they will wish to continue with us.

On the basis of the reduction in staff numbers and the possible reduction in clients, particularly on foot of the elimination of the REPS programme, it is obvious that our existing office network is simply not sustainable. In January 2009, we had 91 offices around the country, between owned officers and leased offices. It clearly was not sustainable. The McCarthy report, which was produced last year, recommended a substantial reduction in the number of offices managed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by Teagasc. A combined total was recommended, with 25 offices being maintained by Teagasc across the country. Our assessment of the report is that while there is clearly a need to rationalise, given the budgetary and staffing situations, we cannot maintain a national service without at least 50 offices.

In the next phase of our rationalisation programme, we have identified a means of reducing our number of offices to 50 over the next three years, from last year's figure of 91. The committee is aware that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food indicated last July that it intends to reduce substantially its number of offices. In addition, we have agreed with the Department to share premises where feasible, which makes a great deal of sense. We have agreed in principle to share premises at six identified locations and therefore reduce overheads all around. That is in the process of being implemented.

I wish to discuss what the advisory service does. We have been trying to make a point over the past year. Naturally, there has been concern about advisory offices throughout the country. Notwithstanding the need for rationalisation, our point has been that we have to focus on the service rather than the location. The service is about having good programmes, which are targeted to the needs of farmers, and good people. Quality people are the essence of our service. When I visit offices, I do not like to see them populated with too many advisers, especially in light of the increasing role of modern communications. I prefer to see advisers working out in the field. Most of our commercial farmers hold that view as well. We have been looking closely at our services. The business and technology service, which is targeted at commercial farmers, is the flagship service. The discussion group model is the core of that service. It has served us very well. It has also served farmers very well. We are glad to say we can embark on an expansion of the discussion groups because money has been made available to that end. We hope many more farmers around the country will join the new discussion group initiative.

We are looking very closely at the requirement coming through for many farmers in relation to high-level environmental advisory services. In the case of commercial farmers, in particular, there has rightly been a great deal of emphasis on environmental schemes like REPS, which is very important. Farmers are dealing with the complexity and demanding requirements of the various environmental directives. There is a service opportunity to focus on the technology aspect of environmental advice, as opposed to the scheme aspect of it.

We are also looking closely at the whole area of rural innovation and rural development. That will obviously be more important at EU level in the years ahead. We see an opportunity in the context of the Leader funds that are available. There is implicit earmarking of a significant amount of funding for farm households. In discussions with the Ministers, Deputies Ó Cuív and Smith, and with the Leader organisations around the country, we have taken the view that Teagasc is in a good position to ensure that farm families capitalise on the resources that have been set aside for that purpose. We hope to work closely with Leader over the coming years on that. Obviously, we also talk to our stakeholders, particularly farmers, about having a more stable long-term source of funding. The current climate is not the best time to suggest to farm organisations that they should contribute a little bit more. Nonetheless, we feel that some sort of tripartite funding arrangement will have to become more widespread in the future. It is obvious that State funding will continue to be needed for public good services, like the environment, and for the overall proportion of exports and competitiveness. Contributions from across the agricultural and processing sectors could be examined. We still receive the individual fees farmers are happy to pay to get the one-to-one advice they need.

There has been a massive growth in the number seeking places in all educational establishments across the country. Agricultural education is no different. We offer further education and are also involved with the institutes of technology across the country in the provision of higher education. The numbers have been growing at a staggering rate in recent years, as with other educational providers. We have had to try to cope with this, albeit with a reduced budget.

We put in place a new structure that we believe is more streamlined and better able to cope with the demand. We have now merged our college offerings with what we used to offer in local advisory areas by setting up 12 regional education centres strategically located around the country and by working in harmony with our colleges.

We have a major difficulty with the remaining private colleges. Many members mentioned this to me. There are three such colleges providing agricultural education, in Pallaskenry, Mountbellew, and Gurteen in County Tipperary. It costs us approximately €4 million per year because Teagasc must subvent the staff. We contribute to the upkeep of the colleges but also subvent the students through maintenance grants and so on. The problem is that the €4 million comes from our non-pay budget. I referred to the fact that this budget is really squeezed and we are under severe pressure in that respect.

Apart from the budgetary problem, the real difficulty in regard to the future of the private colleges is that the staff are not Teagasc staff. They are the employees of the organisations that own the colleges. They are not public employees. Members will be aware of what happened in Warrenstown. The college was closed and we absorbed the staff. The issue came to light and caused many difficulties and much soul searching. The staff, on being absorbed into Teagasc, were essentially converted into public employees with all the implications this would have for the management of resources in the public sector, particularly numbers.

We are under a strict obligation not to engage in a similar practice. It is quite serious because vacancies that arise in the private colleges in the normal course of events cannot be filled because of the recruitment embargo. Even if we had surplus staff within the Teagasc organisation, we could not transfer them to the private colleges. If we did, we would trigger the transfer of undertaking legislation, which was applied in the Warrenstown case. The vacancies are now mounting in the colleges, as one can imagine, and this is exerting severe pressure.

The very least the colleges will have to do is refuse entry in the autumn because there will be fewer staff. More critically, one cannot offer an education programme in any area, particularly in agriculture, without a minimum number of core staff. We are actively engaged in discussions on this with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Finance.

The final area of responsibility is research. I noted we lost 20 researchers last year and more are on the point of retirement. Many of the so-called external income sources have dried up, principally national ones. The committee will be familiar with the stimulus fund, which was very innovative, and the firm fund, which was targeted at the processing sector. There will be no calls in this regard this year, which is a concern.

The research side of the organisation is totally different from the administration side in that if one loses a specialist in one area, one cannot simply transfer someone into the position. We have lost significant expertise in plant pathology, which is a highly technical area. There is one plant pathologist in Oak Park who will retire shortly. One cannot have a credible research service for the tillage sector, particularly the cereal sector, without having a top-class plant pathologist. We will seek a special exemption to recruit one.

We have lost key staff in beef research and the manager of Moorepark Dairy Technology Limited, a highly innovative facility servicing the dairy processing industry. We have lost dairy nutrition experts and we will lose expertise in the sheep sector. We have lost expertise in horticulture. We must cope with this and are operating on a restricted budget by prioritising, re-prioritising, reducing overheads and considering new ways of delivering research. For example, we are trying to conduct more research on farms. This is suitable for a certain type of research, the more commercial type. It will not replace laboratory-based research or experimental field research, both of which are necessary. It will certainly afford us an opportunity to deliver a more commercially oriented service.

We are seeking to increase the number of links with the food industry. At the behest of the industry, we have an exceptional resource at Moorepark and the facility in Ashtown, which services the meat industry. We have been meeting the food companies regularly and saying the resource is publicly funded and available to them. It is a question of finding a more effective way of transmitting that knowledge to the industry to generate employment and export growth.

The position we have taken in recent years with the onset of the budgetary constraints is that, rather than sit back and let outsiders dictate how we should change and effect efficiencies, we have been proactive. We proposed what we believe is the best possible way of rationalising the organisation in the circumstances.

We would like to believe we have rationalised in a balanced way, taking account of the differing needs associated with research, education and advice. We hope we will persuade the Government there is need for investment in research. We do not expect the Exchequer to fund it fully but believe that by carefully managing our profit portfolio, we can facilitate the necessary investment. Priorities are essential. We must re-prioritise and examine different and more cost-effective ways of doing our business.

We have substantially slimmed our senior management structure. When I began as director, there were six senior managers. The latest proposal will reduce the number to three. This is a substantial cut but it only reflects the reduction across the organisation.

We want to focus more on integration. Whenever Teagasc is reviewed by internationals, they notice the potential benefit of having research, education and advice in one organisation. This is certainly true. We can leverage that potential much more by having much greater integration, especially between the advisory and research sides. We have been working to achieve that recently.

Our mission is very much focused on delivering science-based innovation support. This involves building scientific capacity and ensuring we are among the best. We would like to think that in some areas, such as genomics, we are ahead of the best. Our work on animal genetics in conjunction with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation is internationally recognised. Our work in grass production and utilisation is up there with the world leaders, New Zealand.

I am focused on streamlining our administrative structure by which savings can be made. In all of this difficult adjustment for staff and stakeholders, we have tried to maintain open lines of communication with our stakeholders. Consultation committees for every branch of our activity are in place. This is important in a time of real change. While we have gone through a difficult adjustment period, we aim to come out as a stronger organisation, more relevant and more flexible. We have to be able to respond to changing requirements. Doing so will ensure we are enabled to continue the kind of service farmers and food companies expect from the organisation in the long term.

I thank Mr. Boyle for his presentation. I also thank him for providing a copy of the book, Growing Knowledge on Teagasc and 50 years of research and development in the farming and food sector. If any member is keen to have a copy of the book, Mr. Boyle has informed me he will be able to oblige them.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

If the Deputy is proposing we should charge members, we will do so.

I am paying enough.

I welcome Mr. Boyle and his colleagues from Teagasc. The overwhelming message from his presentation is that this is a difficult time but the organisation can emerge slimmer and more focused but not without casualties along the way. That reflects the times we are in and there is an air of reality about it. There is no point in any of us burying our heads in the sand and not facing that reality.

The important task is to ensure the organisation emerges with its core capacity to carry out its functions in education, research and advisory services intact. That is a challenge and I acknowledge the difficult position in which the organisation is regarding its pay and pensions position, an extraordinary demand on its resources at 76% of its budget. Is there any other model used in other semi-State companies with regard to the treatment of retirees? Do they always remain on the balance sheet of organisations or are they incorporated into, say, Department of Finance costs?

The collocation and sharing of offices and resources must be examined not just between Teagasc and its parent Department but across the public service. We have to break down the walls between Departments and ensure resources are shared. As a member of a local authority in Cork for 25 years, I know admirable laboratory research facilities for water quality monitoring were developed at Inniscarra. In implementing the water framework directive and considering Teagasc's dearth of facilities, should these laboratories be open to Teagasc? If so, could the same happen elsewhere in the country?

We can ill afford triplication in office and laboratory facilities. There is scope for greater efficiency in the use of properties held by the Office of Public Works, local authorities, the Health Service Executive and so forth. Have these options been examined to deal with Teagasc's shopping list of facilities? Is Teagasc confined to examining what it and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can achieve in efficiencies in collocation? While existing facilities may not be exactly what Teagasc needs, there could be some sharing to assist the organisation.

In Clonakilty, Bord Iascaigh Mhara is developing incubation units for the seafood sector. My recollection is that there are similar incubation units in Moorepark in a joint approach between Teagasc and the food science department in University College Cork. This strikes me as a duplication of research services. I accept there are strong personalities in research anxious to have their own space and agenda. At a time of scarce resources, what degree of competition and co-operation for research funding exists between the various agencies? Is it delivering the best results for the agencies' core objectives and the taxpayer?

Most farmers' interaction with Teagasc is through its advisory role. If it were setting out again with a blank page to deliver an advisory service, what would be the optimum and desirable number of advisory offices?

I share Mr. Boyle's observations on discussion groups. However, I was disappointed the recently announced initiative for discussion groups was ring-fenced for the dairy sector. I read the criteria about grassland management and so forth which were equally applicable to other discussion groups. While it can be argued it is a departmental decision, I would have thought it would have been on the basis of first-come first-served applications taken chronologically and the funding allocated to those groups which met the criteria. In the beef sector viability is marginal and it needs every assistance it can get with all of the available advice. I accept there are opportunities in the dairy sector because of expansion but it was a mistake to exclude discussion groups in other sectors, in particular the beef sector.

I have seen letters with the Teagasc letterhead written to staff members in the three private agricultural colleges, Gurteen, Mountbellew, Pallaskenry, referring to them as Teagasc staff. The transfer of undertaking will be a difficult issue and I do not know where it will end up. I do not understand the legalities involved in the transfer of undertaking legislation but it appears that staff members in the colleges were considered Teagasc staff. To an extent we are dancing on a pinhead trying to argue now that they are not.

I know some of my colleagues in north County Dublin will want to pursue the issue of horticultural services and in particular the Kinsealy research station. While I welcome the announcement by the Minister yesterday on some compensation for the potato and vegetable sector, this could disappear overnight. Enormous losses have been sustained, the capital costs of getting involved in the industry are significant and while the compensation is welcome, we must be assured that the critical encyclopaedia of knowledge we possess, which has been garnered over a great many years will not be dispersed to the four winds. That research station has an historic resonance among people involved in the sector and I would like to see it being retained. I would certainly like to be assured that the expertise garnered will not be dissipated by decisions made in respect of its future existence. Perhaps Teagasc might comment on that.

I apologise for having to leave before Teagasc has the opportunity to respond, but I shall be interested in the replies which I can access later from the record of the House.

I welcome the members of Teagasc. While there have been several attempts to bring them before the committee, it is good to see that they are here, finally.

On the whole area of research and the McCarthy report proposals for one centralised research body with the various interests seeking to draw from centralised funding, what will the permutations of that proposal be for Teagasc, if it is implemented? In terms of Teagasc's current research function, what percentage of the proposals actually come to fruition within the marketplace or in the agricultural sector per se?

I am a rational person, although not a scientist. As a layman I understand that while there are many proposals in scientific research, many of them could fall by the wayside, with research ending up in a blind alley. I am trying to get a sense from Teagasc as to how applicable much of its research may be in real terms, the budget lines and whether these are warranted and if a case could be made against the proposals in the McCarthy report. Obviously, it will be the task of politicians down the line to make decisions as to how such funding is designated. I would like the views of the delegates on that.

I would also like to hear about the intellectual property rights in research being carried out by Teagasc. While I realise it is looking for more effective ways of interacting with the food industry, and successful and commercially viable proposals might arise from that, the question is who will hold the intellectual property rights, in the event, and whether the food industry is getting a cheap advantage which it could turn into a large profit. Can anything be clawed back by Teagasc in the event of such effort becoming commercially viable?

Could somebody please tell me what is going on in the local offices, in Mallow, for instance? I shall be accused of being somewhat parochial in this regard, but it is probably typical of some other offices around the country. We are told that it could be moved to Fermoy or Mitchelstown and the staff are somewhat confused about what is going on. They do not know what the future holds for them. Could somebody please clarify the future of the Mallow office?

Also, on the advisory services in particular, if there is a 40% reduction in staff in this area, will this give rise to the 12% projected decline, or has this been factored in? I refer to the advisory office rationalisation proposal. By the end of 2012, the report says, there is expected to up to a 40% reduction in all advisory service staff, and the projected decline in numbers is in the order of 12%. I just wonder about the exact correlation there and again, perhaps, Teagasc might clarify this.

Are we handing over the advisory services to the agricultural consultants association or such bodies and in the event, can a mix of two such areas of expertise effectively co-exist? I am reluctant to hand over such a service to one or two entities and believe that a strong capability exists within the service as it is. A 40% reduction in all advisory service staff is a dangerous departure and I would not like to see this. While I can understand the need for rationalisation, an excellent service is being provided within these local offices.

Teagasc has hit the nail on the head, however, in terms of my way of thinking on advocating that the service should be near the client. In particular, with the Mallow proposals, there is the question as to whether the service will be moved further away from its client catchment area. If we are talking about the client, ultimately, the service has to be near him or her. Forgive me if I sound parochial, but I am using Mallow as a benchmark for other offices.

On the agricultural colleges, we need a further explanation of the transfer of undertakings. My impression of Pallaskenry is that it comprises Teagasc staff employed within that college. There is no ambiguity in my mind about that. Perhaps I can be forgiven if an incorrect impression was conveyed to the committee on that matter. I shall leave it at that.

I thank Mr. Boyle and the people from Teagasc for their presentation this morning. I shall have to leave shortly to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I have just one brief question.

On the rationalisation programme, has any decision been taken as yet about County Sligo, and in the event, what is it?

Has the Deputy finished?

I have, yes, and I would appreciate an answer straight away as I have to attend the meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. James McGrath

The site for the Sligo office is owned by the county council, as the Deputy knows and Teagasc owns the building. The decision on Sligo is that our services will operate from Ballymote and that will be developed as a regional education centre, so that the Sligo office will be closed. We shall service Sligo-Leitrim as a joint unit from Ballymote, Mohill and Manorhamiltion and all our services will be covered in that manner.

I thank Mr. McGrath.

I welcome Mr. Boyle and his staff. We have been waiting a long time for him to come, which may be the fault of the committee, but it is better late than never.

I welcome the appointment of Mr. Tom Collins to the board of Teagasc, coming as does from the advisory service. I am a very strong advocate of advisory services. I agree with Deputy Sherlock to the effect that if we do not have independent advisers, we will not have anything. We do not want to be dependent on private consultants who have vested interests and are involved in marketing products and whatever. The experience of private consultants in recent years has not been great because they advise farmers to make investments, since they are involved in that area as well. There is nothing like a State advisory service, and this must be protected.

An effort is being made to run down the advisory service. Gimmicks are being used and the discussion groups consist of holy men who get down on their knees to measure the grass. I do not see a great future for discussion groups and their huge cost must be questioned. Taking farmers away from their work for two or three days' advice means other farmers, some of whom may be more committed, are neglected. It is a gimmick to get rid of the advisory service and then put in back into the farm.

I have strong reservations about giving the responsibility for research to the farmer. Research must be independent so that we do not encourage people to simply promote themselves. In milk testing and other areas, the experience of that approach has not been good. Agriculture is being depended on to rescue the economy at this difficult time. While we have lost a lot of jobs in agriculture across the country, rural Ireland is more dependent on it than ever. My own area of north Cork, as Deputy Sherlock will know, has suffered enormously as a result of changes that have taken place in industry and farming. Many years ago we did not know what recession was but we know now.

In the context of changes in the CAP and in the WTO, where does Teagasc see farming going in the next five to ten years? It is not an easy question to answer. What will be the role for the family farm? Where is the food industry going? There are now some very large companies such as Kraft, Nestlé and the co-operatives. Teagasc has a food research division and food is very important for job creation and for yielding higher prices outside the farm gate.

We have practically lost all our added value. As a child growing up in the 1950s I witnessed an influx of foreign companies because we had the resources. I do not understand whether it is just that we have been priced out of the market. Many British and other foreign dairies came to rural Ireland to create manufacturing jobs but that seems to have stopped and we now seem to be a commodity-based industry.

I take exception to New Zealand, which I have visited on two occasions. It is about time we found out the costs involved in Teagasc staff taking trips to and from New Zealand because there is nothing to compare us with New Zealand. New Zealand has clover and other leguminous plants which take nitrogen from the air, which we do not have because of our climate. They have only one month's winter on the north island. They have scale and are very commodity based yet we send five or six farmers over there who come back and try to influence the direction of our industry. We should model ourselves on northern European industry as that is where we belong. It is creating havoc.

On research, I have no difficulty closing all the offices because the important relationship is that of adviser and farmer. Back in the 1950s and 1960s we did not have any offices but there was a very good advisory service. There is only a need for two offices in County Cork — one in the north east and another in the south west. Teagasc has closed the Bandon office which was the biggest in the county. I will not name the areas I have in mind but Clonakilty is a centre of excellence. Offices do not do anything for farmers and farmers do not depend on offices. Instead, they depend on advice and an adviser to whom they can talk, who goes out to their farm, discusses their problems and completes application forms as necessary. Offices are not an issue and my farmers are not making them an issue.

Discussion groups have been set up for dairying but why have they not been set up for beef, pigs and grain? I am opposed to discussion groups but I still would like to know the answer to the question. Why does Teagasc not amalgamate beef and dairy research in order to save money? Why not get rid of all its leased land? It is a commercial organisation and it should be devoted to research. It is competing with farmers with some 1,000 cows. We should get back to basics because we went wild in the past five or ten years.

There is much of merit in the McCarthy report. The job of Teagasc is to assist farmers and to produce research that meets tomorrow's farming needs but we are not producing it. There is too much money being spent on production research, rather than farming research. No model in Ireland needs to cater for 1,000 cows. Last May was a perfect example of what happens when farmers had their cows on good dry land. We must not stray away from what farming is about. The UK closed down its research facilities and they now neither have facilities nor rely on independent research. However, they are thinking of going back to a state research service.

Colleges were originally set up for farmers going back on the land in the 1900s. Clonakilty and Ballyhaise were founded by the British Government and used to take in 26 or 27 students. I came through one of those colleges in the 1950s. There has been an influx of people into those colleges but I would like greater emphasis to be put on providing education to farmers returning to the land. There must be a theoretical education for people going back into farming because of the nature of the business. Some of the best farmers in the country came out of those two State-owned colleges. They were model colleges in the 1940s and 1950s, and even in the 1920s when people had little in this country. There should be a system of dedicated colleges for farmers' sons or farmers going back into the land and scholarships should be provided, as they used to be.

We have strayed a lot from where we were. An advisory service is vital to the success of Irish farming and agriculture but discussion groups will not replace such a service. Farmers will be neglected and lost. If people want to pay for a private service that is their business but I believe farmers are prepared to pay for a State advisory service because they have learned the lessons of the past five or six years when they made investments based on the advice of the people to whom I referred. There may be one or two bad advisers but, in general, advisers are independent people. I have worked with them closely over my years in farming and they are top quality people who are committed to working for the State. An effort is being made to run down their role in the name of research. I suggest cutting back on research in dairy, beef and other areas and placing greater emphasis on advice. If we are going to model ourselves on New Zealand we can close the door. I have been there twice and came back with a different story from that of others. There is a tendency for a small number of farmers to discredit what we do in this country so that they can take over the running of the country. I believe Mr. Boyle is an independent person and I have admired him since he took his current position but he has a tough road ahead. He must be practical.

I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak at the meeting. I welcome the delegation from Teagasc. I do not want to sound parochial but will confine my remarks to Teagasc at Kinsealy. Earlier this week I attended a huge meeting of agricultural producers from north Dublin, Kildare and Meath who are very concerned at the closure of the Kinsealy plant. I understand Teagasc held a meeting yesterday at which the issue may have been considered and I would be grateful for an update.

There has been a suggestion to transfer the plant at Kinsealy to Ashtown. Ashtown is a ten-acre site, as compared with nearly 90 acres at Kinsealy. This involves a range of horticulture, nursery, grass and turf for golf courses, and so on. The delegation referred to lost expertise in horticulture. Can the delegation explain that? The facility at Kinsealy has been there for over 50 years and was chosen for good scientific reasons such as its soil and climate and not just because it happens to be in north Dublin. The transfer to Ashtown will result in one tenth of the land being available and no crop rotation. Having recently visited the Kinsealy premises, one of the strong points made by staff there was the facility they have for crop rotation and research. Some 432 courses are using the golf turf facility. It involves major turnover, representing some €90 million. I do not see how this can be reproduced on a site of ten acres. There is also major educational involvement in this regard. There are links with the Botanic Gardens and Dublin City University. Over 328 students are in Kinsealy at the moment. How will they be facilitated in the smaller site at Ashtown?

It was suggested to me that Kinsealy is being sold for its land value. The land is in the flight path of Dublin Airport, the red zone where there is no development potential even if there was a need for it. Aeroplanes fly over this area, coming in to land and taking off. If someone has suggested to the delegation that this land is very valuable and may fill a gap in the pension fund, this is way off the mark. The land has nothing more than agricultural value.

The feedback at the meeting indicated major concern on the part of the horticultural producers. They feel they may be the poor relations. We understand that agriculture and food production is vital for Ireland in terms of the economy and exports. The feeling among the growers is that they are not getting a fair deal from Teagasc. If the decision is taken to transfer the site to Ashtown, I would like to hear the comments of the delegation about the ten acre site.

I perused the Teagasc website for background information. The Kinsealy premises is not listed on the website. That may seem trivial but it is a facility producing some €300 million in farm gate value. For this reason it is relevant and should be listed on the website.

I welcome Mr. Boyle and his colleagues. Teagasc is one of the most important advisory and professional bodies for farmers and future farmers in this country. It is disappointing to hear about cutbacks, redundancies and reductions in staff numbers. In the current climate, everyone must be self-sufficient and leaner but my personal experience is that future farmers are dependent on Teagasc, its professionalism and advice. Major changes have taken place in farming and advice was never more needed than now. This applies to young and existing farmers in respect of the changes to and reform of the 2000 CAP in 2013 and the abolition of the milk quota in 2015. We must be leaner and more efficient at farm level. Teagasc is the body to bring us forward in this respect. I am sorry I missed the delegation's presentation because I was on local radio for half an hour. I must look after the political scene at home and we cannot miss these opportunities. The figure of €9 million lost seems large. Farmers are all paying levies to Teagasc. Are there other ways of raising money rather than reducing staff?

The next few years will be tough for farming but there is a great future for it due to population growth predicted in this country and worldwide. There is a future because of the amount of food and products we export from the land. I see the glass as half full rather than half empty, particularly when people look at farming as an alternative in the downturn. In the past ten or 15 years people looked elsewhere to where money was more freely available and now they may turn back to farming and see it as a profession in which they can make a living.

Wearing my local hat, rumour has it that the office in Kilkenny will be closed. I have been contacted by many constituents in the past week, particularly those in my parish of Mullinavat. Efforts were made to close the centre a number of times some years ago and we succeeded in keeping it open on each occasion. What criteria are laid down for the rationalisation and closing of offices? There are two in Kilkenny, Mullinavat and Kells Road, but the former in particular services a large hinterland including New Ross, Waterford and Carrig. It is all strong farming land. Does Teagasc decide which offices close on the basis of the clientele of the office or the number of advisers at the office? What are the criteria for closing offices? My understanding is that the Mullinavat office is very efficient. Some say it is more efficient than the Kells Road office. If one office in Kilkenny is to close, will it be the Kells Road office or the one in Mullinavat? Mullinavat is a small village and the one industry, if we can call it that, is the Teagasc centre. Everything else is gone and we are anxious to keep it open. I am sorry if I seem parochial but this is the one opportunity I have to talk to the representatives from Teagasc face-to-face and get an insight into future plans for services in Kilkenny.

I thought the Deputy was talking about Kells in County Meath but that office is already closed. I received not one representation suggesting that it should be kept open.

We have a different kind of farmer in Kilkenny. I was referring to Kells Road, Kilkenny. We are very proud of everything we have there.

I welcome the members of Teagasc. I have serious concerns, like Deputy Kennedy, about the horticultural industry, the home of which lies in my constituency and where there is a long tradition of horticulture. I understand there are only two and a half whole time equivalent researchers remaining in Kinsealy. Is that the full complement of horticultural researchers in the country? Several years ago there were 21 and this represents a definite decline, from what I have been told. Like others, I want to know whether this matter was raised before the board yesterday, what decisions were taken and on what basis. My next point strikes a chord with all of the farmers who were at the meeting I attended on Monday night and that is that nobody in his or her right mind would sell land at present. The property market is at its lowest point for generations so why would a plan entailing the sale of land be put in place?

What is Teagasc's budget for this year and what was it for last year and the previous year? How many agricultural advisers does Teagasc have who are paid for by the State? What is the ratio of advisers to farmers? How many farmers are there per adviser? I believe we have one garda to 3,000 inhabitants of the country and one Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food inspector for every 30 farmers. Perhaps if a great inequity exists, a net transfer might not be such a bad idea.

I wish to discuss Kinsealy specifically. We all know companies such as Adidas and Nike spend hundreds of millions annually on protecting their brands. Kinsealy is an international brand; it is recognised immediately as a centre of education and research of excellence when mentioned in agricultural sectors throughout Europe. As other speakers stated, the importance of this research facility, not only to education but to wider tourism, such as golfing tourism which is a major industry, cannot be under estimated. It has also conducted research in forestry although it is not a forestry facility. There is a long relationship between the farmers in north Dublin and the advisers at Teagasc in Kinsealy. The Teagasc advisory centres at Newhaggard and Warrenstown were closed and the people were transferred to Kinsealy. We all subscribe to the idea of value for money and efficiency. However, there is a sense that if this is about selling land to make up for a pension deficit then the price of land is understood but the value of the facility to horticulture and the country has been forgotten.

Horticulture is on its knees due to a number of factors including how the multiples sell the product and control the market, the weakness of sterling, the strength of the euro and the weather. The final kick in the teeth is that the advisory and research centre is to be moved. I do not wish to prejudge anything but my experience in health of promises of wonderful things to come tomorrow as what we have today is taken away is not very positive and in the current climate I do not expect anybody in his or her right mind would let go of what he or she has until what is to replace it has been put in place and has been seen to be up and running. Vague plans dressed up in flowery language for future development will not reassure the farmers to whom I and others spoke on Monday night. They want what they have to remain where it is. They need more researchers not fewer and if a small parcel of the almost 90 acres of land needs to be sold to fund this it can be examined when the market has recovered but certainly not now.

In any part of life, whether medicine or anywhere else, one must have an independent advisory service. One cannot depend on the advice of commercial entities selling products as there is an automatic conflict of interest. When a drug company representative comes to me to sell me a product, I read Which?, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal and drugs therapeutic bulletins to find out the real story, always bearing in mind who paid for the research. Farmers receive very useful information but ultimate independence is required when it comes to advice.

Like others from the area, I vehemently oppose the closure of Kinsealy. Its brand value and international reputation, its value to horticulture, golfing tourism and forestry research — although not much of that is done there — is not to be under estimated. I would hate to think that in an attempt to get greater efficiency and to bring more order to the financial affairs of semi-State bodies such as Teagasc we will end up throwing out the baby with the bath water and will do something we will regret for generations to come. If we lose the skill base in horticulture can anyone here countenance the day that Ireland would not be able to produce enough vegetables for our own consumption? If there is a shortage of food in Europe or the UK the 40 ft. containers will not come across the Irish Sea. We need to be self-sufficient and this is a matter of national interest.

I thank Mr. Boyle and his colleagues for their presentation. It was mentioned that discussions are taking place with regard to the staff embargo in colleges. Will Mr. Boyle indicate how he feels they are going? In the face of ever-growing demand in the education and college sector it seems pointless to have an embargo. Mr. Boyle mentioned losing expertise in core research teams on renewable bioenergy. It is hard to see how a full complement of staff could have been developed in that area in the first place. Has this hampered Teagasc's ability to develop research in the first instance? Such research is important in any event because of our emissions targets for 2020 and the diversification of land use post-CAP.

Is there any way another Department can take over the pensions issue? The figure of €54 million is stunning for an organisation the size of Teagasc. It seems odd that it must remain in the accounts indefinitely. With regard to office rationalisation, it makes much sense to try to create one-stop shops whether that is through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Irish Farm Accounts Co-Operative Society, IFAC, or local authorities, but a presence can still be maintained. In Wicklow town, Teagasc shares an office with IFAC. It is a small office but the staff spend much time out in the field, where they ought to be. However, it is there for people who need forms filled in and it works quite well and is efficient. The 2008 report details the membership of the authority. Is there a vacancy on the board of Teagasc?

Like others, I believe research is important and the good and sound reasons that Kinsealy should not be disposed of have been stated. Will Mr. Boyle give a good reason that it should be closed? As far as I can see it should not be, and everyone else thinking rationally agrees. Will Mr. Boyle explain the rationale behind even considering it?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Several points were raised and Deputy Reilly and Kennedy raised the pensions issue, which I will deal with first as it is fresh in my mind. To be very clear, Teagasc does not have a pension fund. We operate in the same way as the public service generally. The notion that Teagasc would engage in asset disposal to plug a deficit in a pension fund is utter nonsense and completely incorrect.

It is being funded out of current income.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Yes, in the same way as every other State agency. I clarified the issue because it was raised during my meeting yesterday with the delegation.

On the specific question on the vacancies on the Teagasc board, we are now back to our full complement. Two appointments were made in the past few weeks. Deputy Edward O'Keeffe referred to the appointment of Tom Collins, who attended his first meeting yesterday. Another change occurred due to the election of Eddie Downey as the new deputy president of the IFA.

In trying to do justice to members' questions, I ask my colleagues to intervene on specific issues. Deputy Creed's contribution comprised as many comments as questions. In regard to our capacity to emerge from our current budgetary and staffing difficulties, we are confident that we have charted a way forward. We have fantastic staff and a tremendous esprit de corps, as anyone who has interfaced with our advisers, researchers and teachers would attest. A certain level of give and take is needed in respect of our parent Department and the Department of Finance. We may push them a little further and I am sure they will also push us. We have no control over staffing in terms of, for example, early retirements or voluntary redundancies. We need permission to implement a voluntary redundancy scheme but this has not yet been forthcoming. As members will be aware, such schemes have not yet been implemented across the public sector. More flexibility in regard to how we deal with staff would be of significant assistance to us.

Has Teagasc made a presentation to the Department of Finance on staffing? If the 2.5 staff at Kinsealy retired tomorrow morning——

Please allow Mr. Boyle to respond before asking supplementary questions.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Rationalising advisory offices will obviously release staff but we need a way to deal with them. A voluntary redundancy programme would be very helpful in this regard.

Do issues arise in regard to redeployment?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

We are redeploying staff as best we can both externally to other agencies and internally but that is not going to absorb all the staff available because of the specialised nature of much of the work we do.

In regard to the treatment of pensions by other non-commercial semi-State bodies, it is important to differentiate us from commercial semi-State organisations which administer pension funds. I understand that the pensions of many non-commercial semi-State bodies are centrally administered. We are presented with particular difficulties because we are anomalous in that regard. We are in constant communication with the relevant Departments on the issue, however.

We would welcome co-location in principle and I understand the Government's desire to make efficiencies. In regard to Deputy Creed's question on why this is not happening in other agencies and Departments, we would have no difficulty in responding to proposals but the logistical problems are surprisingly extensive. It is much easier to work with our parent Department on these matters because we share a good knowledge of our respective operations but in principle we would have no difficulty responding to a suitable proposal.

The question about the optimal number of offices is as impossible to determine as the length of a piece of string. We believe 50 is the minimum. If we were starting out again from a green field we would reconsider where to locate our offices. Some in Deputy Edward O'Keeffe's county would say we have too many offices along the coastline but we have to live with that.

Discussion groups on ring fencing the dairy sector is a matter of public policy and we do not take a position on it, although we organise discussion groups in all the sectors in which we are involved, including dry stock and tillage. I disagree with Deputy Edward O'Keeffe, who has raised this issue with me previously, because we think discussion groups have worked exceptionally well and represent a good use of our resources. As someone who taught in the university sector for 22 years, I have found that students learn as much, if not more, from their peers than from their teachers. The same dynamic applies to discussion groups. A good group allows peer learning and the adviser is merely the facilitator. The adviser who tries to interfere with or dictate to a discussion group is not the best type. I beg to differ with the Deputy, therefore, because we have the evidence to indicate that they have been a success.

Several members asked about private colleges. The issue did not arise until the private colleges indicated to us that the budgetary squeeze was creating challenges in terms of their current expenditure on building maintenance. We looked upon the staff of private colleges as de facto Teagasc staff for the simple reason that their salaries are paid out of the Teagasc Vote, albeit not under the heading for formal staff expenditure, and we administer their pensions. The only cause of concern is that they are not formally Teagasc staff and, therefore, are not part of our line management system. We can, for example, transfer teachers from our college in Kildalton to the advisory service if an appropriate vacancy arises. This a healthy model because research is a young person’s game and when one advances somewhat, one might be better off providing advice or education. However, we cannot act likewise in respect of private colleges.

The problem came to a head in the context of the transfer of undertakings for Warrenstown College. When it was decided to close that college, we wanted to accommodate its staff because, first, we needed them to continue our educational programmes in the Botanic Gardens and Kinsealy and, second, we were naturally concerned about people who had given many years of loyal service. We automatically began to transfer staff to the Botanic Gardens but encountered difficulties in the midst of this process. The Department of Finance pointed out that, as the staff concerned were not Teagasc employees, technically we were in breach of the moratorium on hiring. A protracted and difficult series of discussions ensued. As we had initiated the process, it was clear that we had triggered what is called a transfer of undertakings. In transferring staff and relocating Warrenstown's activities to Kinsealy, we had a liability under law to the staff concerned. When that issue was ultimately resolved and the staff transferred, the Departments took the view that a serious situation had arisen because we had in effect breached the embargo and would, therefore, have to reduce our total staffing over a period of time by a number equal to those staff who were transferred from Warrenstown. That was the first thing. They clearly instructed us that this kind of mechanism which would trigger transfer of undertaking was not to happen in the future. That leaves us now with a dilemma. We have three private colleges. Under our clear instructions we cannot do anything in the way we handle those colleges that would trigger a transfer of undertaking in the same way as happened in Warrenstown. For example, the most immediate issue concerns vacancies created by retirement and people going on maternity leave. Such vacancies are created in any private college. However, even if our own staff could fill those vacancies we cannot tranfer them because we are advised that this would be a clear signal that Teagasc was transferring the undertaking and was assuming a more formal involvement than it had in the past. This is a very delicate issue. In our de facto relationships with the staff concerned we have always considered them to be Teagasc staff, apart from the one wrinkle in line management that I mentioned. That is our position.

Obviously, we are engaged in discussions with our departments because this is clearly not a sustainable position. At the very least we want to be able to transfer our staff to fill vacancies and we hope that in the process we can come to some understanding. Otherwise what will happen is that these colleges will simply not be able to take on students. Members will have noted the story concerning CAO applications the other day. I have not looked at our figures yet but am sure we will be well represented again. This is as much a response to the prevailing economic climate as to anything else.

I move now to the subject of Kinsealy because I know it is of direct interest to several committee members. Deputy Reilly asked specifically where Teagasc stands with regard to decision making. The authority met yesterday to consider not merely Kinsealy but the entire changed plan. The point I tried to emphasise in my presentation is that we would not do any of this if it were not for the very difficult situation in which we find ourselves. We would not do any of this if our budget had not been cut by €14 million in the past two years leaving us facing a significant cut in external income. It would be completely imprudent of Teagasc as an authority, and of me as a director of the executive, not to identify rationalisation opportunities because we could not continue as a viable organisation. That is the background to the decision on Kinsealy, which is one part of a much bigger set of decisions.

I point out to members that in the advisory area alone we propose to reduce our office numbers across the country from 91 on 1 January 2009 to approximately 50. That is a huge step. We also propose very significant changes in our research services. Deputy O'Keeffe will be happy to note that like any good farmer the first place we looked at was our leased holdings. We are exiting a number of leased farms in the near term and are looking very closely at others. We have sold some land that was used for research and have also engaged in very significant rationalisation. We hope to do much more on the educational side because it is needed.

It is important, therefore, to look at the Kinsealy issue as part of a much broader picture. In other words, it is like building a defence wall. If one takes away a single brick the entire wall can crumble. We are concerned to look at the total picture. Basically, we are focused very much on continuing to deliver services across a broad spectrum. I have had discussions with several people, including the delegation yesterday. Unfortunately, the delegation that met me yesterday just before the board meeting was to begin had not communicated with me in advance. I have no difficulty in meeting any delegation and see that as part of my job. I would meet them any day of the week. In this case, however, the delegates turned up just as the board meeting was about to start. I met them for half an hour and will meet them again, as I have undertaken to do.

I shall explain the position on Kinsealy. There are several misperceptions about the place. We may lament what in the past was undoubtedly a far bigger service. The perception is that Kinsealy is all about horticultural research and advice but unfortunately that is no longer the case. I want to nail that point because it is very important. As the Deputy noted, at present in Kinsealy in the areas of horticultural advice and research we have a complement of 2.2 full-time permanent staff with about 11 advisers attached. I will explain the bulk of the remaining staff. The Deputy rightly identified that we have a teaching staff at Kinsealy which has grown in recent times. That is because we absorbed the Warrenstown staff into Kinsealy.

Let us be very clear about that teaching staff in terms of their requirements and access to horticultural-type land. The programmes conducted in the Botanic Gardens and at Kinsealy today are what we call amenity horticultural programmes. I accept that may change in the future. These are not production horticultural programmes. We may regret that but it is a fact. The reason for that was demand. In recent times, during the height of the Celtic tiger, the boom in the building industry happily gave rise to a big demand for amenity horticultural graduates. The entire structure of the programmes at Kinsealy and in the Botanic Gardens was geared in that direction. That may change in the future but it is a reality.

Amenity horticulture does not have the same requirement for land bases as does production horticulture. The Deputy mentioned golf. As far as I know, there are several golfing greens there because we have a programme on maintenance of golf courses and greens. We have 14 spare acres of land at Ashtown which is only six miles down the road, according to the AA road map.

Deputy Johnny Brady resumed the Chair.

What is the total acreage in Ashtown?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The major acreage available for cultivation is on the Emsworth site. I am not sure, off the top of my head, but there are perhaps 60 acres at Emsworth.

I asked about Ashtown.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I do not know the total acreage but there is a free acreage of 14 acres. I shall return to that but wish to finish my point. There is a big group of educational people at Kinsealy but they are not dependent on the Kinsealy site to do their business because they are in amenity horticulture. If we were to locate them at Ashtown, which is the plan at present——

Will Mr. Boyle explain what amenity horticulture is?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Amenity horticulture is landscape gardening and that sort of thing. It is not production horticulture. That is very important because right now our production horticulture is in Kildalton College, in Piltown in County Kilkenny. We have a link there with the Waterford Institute of Technology.

Regarding educational development in Dublin, I would like to think we would develop a production horticultural programme. Time will tell whether there is a demand for it. We have just embarked on a very significant link with Dublin City University, as a member mentioned. It is the first time that Teagasc will be linked with a university in a third-level educational programme. Negotiations finished very recently. That will enable us to offer a level 8 course in horticultural science to students for the first time at this level. UCD does not offer this facility any more and it is the first time that Teagasc and DCU are offering it.

The site at Ashtown is only down the road——

There is no bus service.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

We are talking about the future. It is not too far away.

As the crow flies it is not far away but to get to it——

Please allow Mr. Boyle finish.

May I make one point, for general information? Six miles in Dublin is like 30 miles in the country. One has to traverse the car park that is known as the M50.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I have driven——

The meeting is being dominated by Kinsealy. We have other points.

The Deputy will have a chance to come back in when Mr. Boyle has finished.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The point I am trying to make is that there are 85 staff in Kinsealy. As it happens, the vast majority have nothing to do with production horticulture. There are significant numbers of people in Kinsealy who are what we call headquarter staff. We closed and sold our site in Sandymount Avenue and for one reason or another, those people would not move to Oak Park and so they are located at Kinsealy. There is another group of people located at Kinsealy, our rural economy experts. The headquarters of our rural economy division is now in Athenry. Those people refused to move to Athenry and were located at Kinsealy. They do not have any requirement for a land base at Kinsealy.

I accept the point made and I was in AFT, An Foras Taluntais, many years ago when the late, great David Robinson was heading it and it was a totally different place. People's memory of Kinsealy today goes back to those days. There is only a very small number of people tied in to production horticulture. At present, we use 14 acres of the Emsworth land for vegetable trials. Although it is regrettable and something we are examining, the vast bulk of those vegetables trials are not related to production horticulture but tied in to our biotechnological programme. We have a programme at Ashtown that looks at the identification of sources of bioactives in vegetables and other plants to enhance value added in food. The main point, which I accept, is that in our earlier draft presented to the authority the perception may have been given that by moving to Kinsealy we were signalling a downgrading of horticulture and I discussed this with the growers yesterday. Notwithstanding the other points to the effect that Kinsealy today is very different from the Kinsealy of ten or 15 years ago, there is no way of arguing it is not the case. This is the reality.

I discussed the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, and others and I accept that in the earlier draft we presented to the authority that perception might have been given. By the way, we will not sell immediately. We are not stupid and we will not try to sell property in the current climate. There is a timeframe and we are looking ahead three to five years. Obviously, we will not engage in a fire sale. That would be imprudent and our authority would not allow us to do so, but I accept that it would be very serious if growers believed we were abandoning or downgrading horticulture. I have given a commitment and it was not today or yesterday. We have been examining this matter for some time to bring forward a horticulture development plan.

I disagree with Deputy Reilly's remarks. The people who know me know I do not indulge in vague assertions or promises. The horticultural development plan at issue will be capable of delivering within our resources, modest though they are. There are eleven advisers engaged in horticultural advice at present. The problem is with applied research. We have 2.2 staff, which, I accept, is grossly insufficient for the task at hand. My commitment is that first, within the embargo we will try to redeploy people into applied horticultural research and second, to identify how we can pull all of our resources in horticulture both in Kinsealy and Kildalton. Kildalton is a very big part of the picture and we have a horticulture education programme there as well.

Yesterday we agreed the matter at the authority and it accepted the plan, bearing in mind a three to five-year time horizon and the points made about the market. I accept all those points and the matter is crucial for us. Even if we identified potential savings or income from the sale of assets, we would need leave from the Department of Finance to proceed with all the planned elements and to reinvest the resources. Obviously, if the Department of Finance were to revert to us and indicate that we cannot do so or if it disallows us doing so, then we cannot proceed with the plan. We will engage in discussions with the Department of Finance on all aspects of the plan. Rather than sit back and allow others to decide what is best for the organisation, we are prepared to determine the most reasonable rationalisation programme from our perspective and we will do so.

I have a commitment. Yesterday, I informed growers that the plan is nearly finished and it will involve an increase in research resources and more effective integration of education with advisory and research services. I will discuss that plan with them, with the Minister and anyone from this meeting who is interested. It will be incorporated into our revised plan. That is the position. It is perfectly transparent and I would be pleased to discuss it with anyone. The main issue is not the site. The same argument has arisen in respect of the advisory offices. For me, the main issue is the level and quality of the service we can deliver to growers. The most difficult issue is, within an embargo, how do I put additional resources into priority areas. I have that problem in horticulture, beef and many other areas. That is the greatest task and I hope I will be able to get support from the likes of the members who have influence in bringing that about.

If Deputy O'Keeffe does not have a supplementary question I shall call Deputy Doyle.

I asked about the travel of Teagasc staff to New Zealand. What is the up to date position? How many travelled last year? Mr. Boyle also mentioned leased land. I do not see any future in Teagasc leasing land even though it now has a surplus of land. I want to see a greater emphasis on research based in northern Europe, rather than on the Pacific rim. Today, that area is a cheap source of production. South America is taking our market share.

I understand the figure is 1,000 cows — I have not counted them but the figure is close enough. At present, in Ireland there is a desire for a dual purpose animal, for milk and beef. Farmers are finding it increasingly difficult. Friesian bull calves are not very saleable now although there used be a good market for them. Is there any possibility of research being done on a dairy-beef breed such as Friesian bull calves? That is a job for Teagasc. There is a controversy in grading and other issues concerning these calves. Might there be a project on veal? It may have been done before but this is the kind of innovative work that needs to be done.

The organisation should not be over-influenced by newspaper articles on what Teagasc should do. By and large, the McCarthy report was very fair to Teagasc. If Teagasc were to try out the recommendations of the report of an bord snip nua it would be going in the right direction, never mind what other people say. There is too much emphasis on production research and not enough on the provision of advice. I will not get into the scientific area but we need advice.

Had Mr. Boyle finished?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

My apologies for not answering in full.

That is all right.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

There was an emphasis on Kinsealy which took up too much time.

Every now and then I have similar difficulties.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I shall ask my colleague to comment. Specific issues were raised with regard to New Zealand and our research programme. However, in case any other members get a mistaken impression, Teagasc does not have an actual herd of 1,000 cows. We have several herds——

Mr. Gerry Boyle

——and that is the total number of cows but people might think we were milking 1,000 cows on one platform. That would be grossly wrong.

Teagasc can do all the research it wants.

I presume the emphasis is on growth.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I do not have the specific information on New Zealand with me. Obviously, there has been much less travel in recent times. I must own up and inform the Deputy that I will go to New Zealand in the not too distant future——

Mr. Boyle can bring Deputy O'Keeffe with him.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

——for the same reason.

Do not leave him behind.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I shall talk to him before I go and when I return. The simple reason is that we have extensive international collaboration with the United States and elsewhere but our most productive collaboration internationally not only on production research, but on environmental issues has been with New Zealand. However, we are very conscious of the differences in scale and so on.

There is a difference in climate too.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Yes, and in climate. However, the Deputy will agree that country produces grass quite well and that is something we share and we have in common. The other thing I have learned most from New Zealand is that the huge difference between the farming system there and here is that it is a business there. I make this point by way of parenthesis. People come into agriculture through routes other than inheritance.

My colleague, Mr. O'Meara might answer the specific questions raised about research priorities. Mr. O'Meara is head of our research directorate.

I spoke of 1,000 cows in total. I believe 300 dairy cows are enough to do the business. It is a commercial operation then.

I call Mr. O'Meara.


Dr. Frank O’Meara

As the director said we do not operate large herds like that, we have multiple herds that are dedicated to research projects. The number of cows will dictate the amount of research we can do, the cow is the experimental unit. We have about 800 cows in our research programme and we have more than 1,000 experimental units in our sheep research programme. The problem with cows is that they are land intensive; it takes almost an acre to stock a cow. If we want to do an equivalent amount of research, we must have that number of experimental units, otherwise we cannot do the research.

The production research that demands the use of cows is what our stakeholders want. We have a strong laboratory-based research programme as well, which is essential in the long-term for research and the development of new technology, but the more applied production research is what our stakeholders are interested in.

The leased land was mentioned. No matter where we would hold an open day about any of our research projects, there would be tremendous interest from the farming community. In our Solohead farm, we have developed technologies that are the envy of Europe in terms of integration of clover into pasture swards for dairy cows. We are looking at translating that out to beef cattle as well.

Whatever resources we have had, they have been used effectively for the generation of research for our dairy stakeholders. The level of satisfaction with the research has been high, as can be shown by the numbers of farmers coming to open days. Around 7,000 farmers attended our last open day in Moorepark. That indicates a huge connection to the industry, and a desire by the industry to find out what we are doing.

We face a tough financial situation. We hate to cut back on anything but we must cut our cloth to suit our measure. In the case of the dairy programme, there has been a significant cut back in the resources, land and animals, with possibly a reduction of around 300 cows by this time next year through the cessation of leased land, the sale of one of our own farms and the transfer of one of our herds into a college farm.

There are many differences between us and New Zealand but the similarity is that we both have pasture-dependent dairy, beef and sheep industries. Very few countries have such a significant dependence on pasture, with perhaps only Britain and parts of northern France being the same. New Zealand, however, is the one place we can go where there is a huge emphasis on the utilisation of pasture. The infrastructure in Britain has gone so we have much to learn from New Zealand, as they have much to learn from us. We would have visitors from there, it is all part of the internationalisation of science and research. We must keep up to date with what is happening in other countries because if we do not we are at risk of trying to reinvent the wheel. New Zealand is a key place for us to liaise with in research terms because both breeding and grass management are very similar in the two countries. There are major differences in terms of scale and the structure of the industry and land ownership that is irrelevant to us. There are huge synergies, however, to be got in the areas where we can liaise with them.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Deputy O'Keeffe raised the important point of the amalgamation of our beef and dairy centres. We have done that recently, establishing a single research centre for animal production and grassland, with a single head. That person is responsible for sheep, beef and dairy research. For the reasons outlined by the Deputy, we see opportunities in terms of animal breeding and grassland where we can achieve synergies.

Deputy Aylward asked about Mullinavat, while Deputy Sherlock asked about Mallow.

What are the criteria for closing an office?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

There are several criteria. Financial cost is one. Some of our offices must be at a certain standard for client services, with wheelchair access and so on.

We have all those.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Working conditions of staff are another matter. The major issue, and the most difficult to communicate with farmers, is that there is no point having a small office with a couple of advisers. Like anything, if there is to be a professional service, we need critical mass to deliver it. Otherwise there cannot be specialisation. There are offices where there are only one or two advisers and they need to be jack of all trades. That is not the way to deliver a professional service.

Some of the offices are leased, and as Deputy O'Keeffe said, one looks at the leased premises first when rationalising.

Two offices would service the whole of County Cork. No farmer has complained to me.

Mr. James McGrath

In east Cork, we have four offices, with Mallow being one. Mallow will stay open, while there will be an office in Midleton and one in Fermoy in Moorepark and one in Newmarket. We will keep those open.

Mullinavat in Kilkenny is listed for closure. If we look at the reasons, we have an excellent facility in Kildalton, 14 kilometres from Mullinavat.

It is the same between Kells and Navan and there were no complaints in Kells.

It is not as central. Teagasc owns Mullinavat, it is not leased. There are 12 advisers there and the clientele tells me they are super-efficient, much better than many others. It is a pity it is being closed.

Mr. James McGrath

The Kilkenny office has 14 staff, with 1,300 clients, while in Mullinavat there are six staff and half as many clients.

It is a similar ratio.

Mr. James McGrath

Kildalton is 14 kilometres away so it makes sense to move there to allow us to spread our overheads. Rationalisation and the drop in staff numbers due to the embargo mean that our overheads are growing and we must reduce them. Administration staff could service three advisers in an office when they could do the same work for four or five advisers. There are other overheads related to technology.

Can we follow up on those criteria? Can we be given the actual cost of maintaining the service and the clientele in, say, Mullinavat? Can we convince the people who come to me that is the rationale behind it because I have been told that the service at Mullinavat is super efficient? It is run by a staff of 12 and, as has been mentioned by Mr. Boyle, the premises is owned by Teagasc. The suggestion is to move the service to Kildalton College, a college of which we are very proud. However, Kildalton College, which has a farm, was set up for a different reason — research and so on. If the advisory service was to be transferred to the college, it would not work as well; they should be kept separate.

Mr. James McGrath

To clarify the issue in regard to office and office use, we have looked at the use of our offices by clients. We discovered that a client might make one and a half visits per annum to our offices. That is not a major use of an office by a client. With modern technologies, mobile phones and so on, we want our advisers meeting the farmers and their clients out on the ground. We would not see 14 km down the road for that one visit to Kildalton as a major imposition. The six staff in Mullinavat can be moved to Kildalton and serve us quite well from there.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

That was the point I wanted to make.

Have the witnesses responded to all the queries?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Deputy Sherlock raised a number of points in respect of the McCarthy report and the recommendations on research. I invite my colleague to deal with that issue.

Dr. Frank O’Meara

This is the proposal to establish an agency to take control of all funding streams for research. Our first concern was that it seemed to indicate that our core research budget could possibly be transferred to that agency. Our core research budget covers the salaries of our research staff so, in effect, we would be asking staff to bid for their salaries. It would not be the same for the other research providers, that is, the higher education sector, who are bidding for discretionary spending or competitive funding for the additional cost of carrying out research. If such a funding body was to be set up, it would have to operate on an equal basis to give us fairness and equity in that regard.

What was probably in the mind of the proposers was that all competitive funding streams, such as what we might use to service our sector, the stimulus and firm funds, the SFI sector or health research board, might be administered by one central agency. We would not have any particular concern about our ability to compete in that sphere but we would be concerned that the agrifood sector, which is being called upon to kick-start the economy, would not be diminished in terms of its importance within such an overall funding body which would deal with health, communications and all the other areas covered by research. I do not want to use the words "ring fencing" but I cannot think of a better word. It is important that agriculture and food gets due recognition within the funding priorities of any such agency. In regard to our ability to compete with the other sectors, that is something we do every day in terms of applying for competitive funding. That is an important point to make.

Has Mr. Boyle covered every other issue?

I had two questions which were not answered.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

In fairness to the Deputy, it would not be——

In response to the question of what was the budget for the past three years, Mr. Boyle said it was €14 million. How many agricultural advisers are in place this year? What is the ratio of agricultural advisers to farmers? How many acres are in Ashtown? I am sure Deputy Kennedy will want that question answered also.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

May I answer that question in terms of the budget?

On the same vein, I asked the number of acres in Ashtown. I understand the number is ten. The witness said there are 14 acres of vegetables on trial in the lands across the road in Elms, as we call it. That does not add up if there are ten acres in Ashtown and in one trial 14 acres are used out of nearly 88.

Mr. Boyle mentioned this plan. When does he expect that plan to be available? Who is advising him on the plan? Will he involve the growers in north Dublin and Meath in that process? Finally, Mr. Boyle said he would welcome Deputies at any future discussions. I would wish, as I am sure Deputy Reilly would, to be involved in any such discussions.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Deputy Reilly asked about our grant in aid. We get three tranches of State support, with the State grant being the largest amount. In 2008, it amounted to €124.3 million and in 2009 it amounted to €119.9 million. We also get what is called an NDP training grant which amounted to €12.6 million in 2008 and €12 million in 2009. We also get a small amount for forestry which, from memory, is around €0.8 million. Also, we generate a significant amount of non-grant-in-aid income, through our fees from farmers and other competitive tendering for research contracts, which in 2008 amounted to €46.3 million while in 2009 it was €47.8 million. For 2010, the overall State income — I do not have the figures with me — including the NDP grant amounts to €129 million. We anticipate, but, obviously, we do not know, what the non-grant-in-aid income will be for this year because that depends on our success in generating external income. However, as I said earlier, it could be reduced by up to €9 million because we will be heavily reliant on the competitive grants system, firm fund, which is directed towards the food processing industry and the stimulus fund which is mainly for agriculture. They are closed off and there will not be any new tenders, so we will be looking to EU funds.

I said earlier that the real squeeze has come on us in regard to pensions, not so much the pension income as the lump sums paid out. In 2008, we paid out €3.4 million in lump sums. Our budget for last year was €4.4 million but the outturn was €11.2 million — I may have said €11.6 earlier. That put the squeeze on us because it hammered our non-pay. The discretionary resources, or non-pay resources, are what determine the level of service we can offer. In 2008, our non-pay element was €59 million and last year it was €46 million, which was a massive adjustment in one year. There will be a further reduction in 2010. We have pencilled in a figure of about €6.2 million, because we have not yet finalised the 2010 budget, for lump sums which is about half of last year's level. As we saw last year, that figure could change during the year because we are in a fluid situation.

Deputy Reilly asked also about the number of agricultural advisers per farmers. If we take a total farm population of, for example, around 130,000, there are 414 farmers per adviser. This figure much beloved of my good friend and fellow economist, Colm McCarthy. It is pretty meaningless for the simple reason that we have client base and work with a fraction of that. We work with approximately 40,000 farmers, and that figure tends to be fairly stable. It can go up as well because the penetration in that cohort of commercial farmers can increase, even though the overall number is declining. There are, on average, 130 clients per adviser. The Deputy asked me that question and I am responding from numbers I have with me. I am reasonably happy that they are accurate.

All of those figures were given to those of us who were here earlier. I do not like having to say this, but we started this meeting at 11 o'clock this morning and it is not fair for people who come in late to repeat the questions. I would ask Mr. Boyle to skip those questions if he has already given the information earlier.

Some of us could not be here this morning.

I know that. In fairness, the Deputy was here at the beginning of the meeting.

There were enough of us here for the presentation.

Deputy Kennedy asked questions. I will call——

I asked Mr. Boyle about the exact acreage at Ashtown.

Mr. Gerry Boyle


Is it ten acres, as I am led to believe? If that is the case, how can there be 14 acres of trial vegetables in Teagasc's leased lands at Kinsealy? How could Teagasc continue that if it moves to Ashtown?

When will the plan that Teagasc is bringing forward be available? Who will draw it up, and will Teagasc involve the growers in that plan?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I am not sure of the total acreage of the Ashtown site because there are many buildings on the site. Does Dr. O'Meara know the answer to that question?

Dr. Frank O’Meara

In total it is up to 90 acres.

That is in Kinsealy.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

How many are in Ashtown?

Dr. Frank O’Meara

I do not know the total footprint. As far as I know, there are 14 acres.

It amazes me how, with the greatest respect——

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Can I answer the point? Obviously, there are buildings on the site.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

On Ashtown. Has the Deputy visited Ashtown?

I have not visited yet. I would like to do so.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The Deputy is welcome to visit. I am advised that on the green space in Ashtown there are 14 acres. The rest is occupied with buildings. I do not know the footprint of the buildings——

Of glasshouse buildings.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

——but in terms of green land, there are 14 acres.

There are nearly 90 acres of green land in Kinsealy, between the owned lands and the leased lands.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

What is required, as I tried to explain, is that the type of horticultural service now in place is totally different to what it was 20 years ago. Unfortunately, we will never return to a position where we have 20 to 30 staff in Kinsealy. We might like to see that but it will never happen. It would be illogical to think we would need the same amount of land——

I am not disputing that. Does Mr. Boyle take my point that if there are 14 acres of trial vegetables in Kinsealy and only ten acres in total of green land in the alternative site in Ashtown, that will put major pressure on trials or any other form——

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The Deputy obviously does not accept what I said, namely, that there are 14 acres, not ten. We are looking at a three to five year programme. We have other opportunities and other lands on which to do research. In terms of the way in which research is done, it is not as if the researcher must be right beside the field experiment every day of the week. That is not the way it is done. For example, one of our most successful dairy projects is in Ballyhaise College. The researcher is based down in Moorepark and there are technicians in Ballyhaise who do the measurements and so on.

With due respect, we are talking about type of soil and climate.

Please, Deputy.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Yes, but that is what I am suggesting.

Horticultural soil is different from agricultural soil in any other part of Ireland.


Mr. Gerry Boyle

I am very aware of that point. In addition to that, I mentioned earlier, and one of the growers remarked on this yesterday, that most of our activity is taking place on commercial farms because we find that it is more appropriate to conduct the more applied research on commercial farms. We are finding that farmers have a much closer affinity with highly applied work if it is done outside of a research environment. I assure the committee that in regard to the 14 acres on Emsworth lands, which I understand were only cultivated in recent years, we will have no difficulty in replacing those or more if the need arises. Furthermore, we will engage more into the future in research on commercial farms.

On-farm trials.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Yes. It will be a mixture.

On the plan, the plan has been produced by our own——

Chairman, would you set up a private meeting with those Kinsealy people? We should have a private meeting with the Kinsealy people.

There should be a private meeting.

We are talking about the overall policy of the organisation.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

My research and advisory colleagues are working on the plan.

When will it be ready?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

My intention is that it will be ready by the end of the month.

The end of this month.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

Yes. I undertook to the group yesterday that I will give them a draft of the plan.

We would not have this argument today if Charlie Haughey had not interfered years ago when it was about another closure.

Who voted him in?

Please ask your questions.

The Deputy should ask his questions.

We miss having Charlie Haughey around now.

Allow Deputy O'Keeffe to ask his questions.

Thank you, Chairman. Teagasc closed the Bandon office, which I understand was the biggest office in the country. Will the Mallow office go to a new, up-market site? Will it move to an old parking site, which would be a cost factor?

Dr. O'Meara made a point about sheep. There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand. There were 80 million at one time, mainly for wool. Of the 800 cows in Moorepark, what was the number of herds? Solohead is a first-class research facility, which I have visited. New Zealand would have substantially lower costs than Ireland if the farmers had only ten cows. They have no fertiliser bill because they get the nitrogen from the air through the modules or whatever. They have only one month's winter in the North Island; it is somewhat different in the South Island. Mr. Boyle is not comparing like with like in that regard.

I am glad Teagasc is giving recognition to Clonakilty College by taking a herd of cows to that area.

I do not understand the reason Teagasc wants 800 cows for research. I do not care if 10,000 farmers or the whole world of farming came into Moorepark. A limited number of cows would do for research in terms of finding out the good and the bad, and the land requirement. Farming will change a great deal through the weather conditions and climate change affecting this country. Teagasc should want more cows in areas with heavier land for those experiments but when smart people writing in papers and journals tell us we must have cows on the scale required, I begin to wonder. I am farming, although not actively, and in terms of the driest land in the country there were difficulties for farmers. The problem is not a simple one, and this has been the worst winter yet in terms of frost.

Teagasc is being driven in this regard more by people from outside the marketplace than by politicians. Research must be even-handed and fair. New Zealand is not the model to be used. New Zealand produces 15 million tons of milk; we produce only five or six, or less. Denmark is probably the model we should examine. When I was in school years ago I was told about Denmark and all the added value in their dairy products. We have nothing in terms of added value. We just have the basic commodity of milk powder, skimmed milk powder and butter, which is nearly gone. There is a major job of work to be done to bring us back to the position we should be in now. New Zealand has a big market in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and perhaps in the whole of China, if they can get into that market. We do not have that market. Our market is on our doorstep. The Danes have ferries travelling from Denmark across to the greater Manchester area with their produce. We have to focus on the yogurts and the small fresh foods and make a come back in that area but we have lost all of that because we have not done anything about it.

I agree that research and development is very important and should be part of the plan for the future. I agree with Mr. Boyle that on-farm research and development is the way to go, and Teagasc's own colleges do that. I understand Teagasc does a great deal of research on vegetables grown in Kildalton. As far as I am aware that site is ideal for that, although it might not be as good as the one in Dublin.

With regard to the rationale for closing the office in Mullinavat, I do not accept that the distance the clientele of Teagasc in Mullinavat and south Kilkenny will have to travel to avail of the service in Kildalton College is only 14 km from Mullinavat. Kildalton is a college and a research facility and an advisory service will be provided there now. Farmers in that area who want to obtain advice and complete forms will have to go to Kildalton College. The distance between one end of south Kilkenny and the other is 30 km, not 14 km. To travel from New Ross or Tullow down to the Tipperary border to where Kildalton College is located is a longer distance than 14 km. If we are to convince farmers and the clientele of Teagasc that this move is necessary for economic purposes and because of the cutbacks, Teagasc will have to give reasons and produce figures to support this. Most of the people who avail of the service provided by the Teagasc office in Mullinavat say it is fantastic. Mullinavat is located in the heart of south Kilkenny. If one drew a circle around the county, this office would be located in the middle of it along the main road. It serves a strong farming community in south Kilkenny.

The Deputy has covered that point. This is his third time to make it.

If I am to convince the people of that area of the need to close this office, I will have to have figures to support the decision, and the representatives will have to tell me the reason for this move. Is it is a good idea to relocate advisers to this college and for farmers to call to see them there, given that a different professionalism exists there?

Could the representatives arrange for an official to meet Deputy Aylward and farmers from that area?

If Teagasc is closing the office there, an official will have to meet the people there.

I thought initially this was the tourism committee given the apt description by the Deputy of the benefits of Mullinavat.

I ask the Deputy to be brief.

I welcome the DCU development. Reading between the lines, I gather this plan is not yet set in stone and there will be further consultation and other opportunities presented might change the nature of the plan given that it is a three to five-year plan.

As one who knows a little bit about research but not agricultural research, I make the point that the nearer the research is carried out to the conditions farmers experience on the ground — which is why one does on-farm testing — the better. The nature of the land and its location near the sea is the reason much of this development has taken place in north Dublin, where there is access to water and to early grazing. Surely it makes sense to retain Teagasc at that location.

I cannot say that I agree with a point made by Mr. Boyle, the director of Teagasc, even though he obviously knows more than I do on this subject. I do not accept that in the future there may not be need for a greater number of researchers or to retain that land, which is near an urban centre, the college, a university centre and transport facilities. The facility at Kildalton is excellent but that location is not the hub of vegetable production. North Dublin and Meath is where that happens.

If the Deputy was to survey the 328 students, I guarantee they would say they get the bus to Kinsealy and do not have any other means of transport.

Mr. Boyle might briefly respond to points made.

We have a dedicated committee.

I know that.

In fairness, we have got a good hearing.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The authority approved the plan yesterday and said that in the revised version it is important that the horticultural plan would be developed more fully than it has been. There will be consultation on the horticultural plan.

With the growers and representatives?

Mr. Gerry Boyle

I will talk to the growers.

As the Chairman suggested, I would be happy to meet a delegation from Deputy Aylward's constituency. However, I make the point that we hear many such discussions about individual offices, but I return to a point Mr. McGrath made. In terms of the use of the office, a farmer would make one and a half visits to the office per year. I do not know why that is the case but that is the reality.

I go to the office in my area three or four times a year.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The Deputy might, but I am speaking about the average number of visits.

Deputy Aylward may go to the office on behalf of farmers.

No, I go on my own behalf.

Mr. Gerry Boyle

The average I cited is consistent, year in year out.

The advisory service delivered from the office in Grange for farmers in that area of Meath works very well. I do not believe Deputy Aylward has anything to worry about in this respect.

If the Chairman spoke to some of the farmers I spoke to during the week, they would have told him that they have something to worry about.

My local office closed and there was no hullabaloo about it.

I have not had one representation and we are holding on to three offices.

The Deputy is trying to close them down but I am trying to keep them open.

On behalf of the committee, I apologise to Mr. Boyle and his colleagues for the postponement of the meeting on 16 December due to all the votes that were called on that day. I thank them for being with us, for giving us an overview of the position, for their presentation and for answering the members' questions. I thought this meeting would conclude at 12.30 p.m. or 1 p.m. but it is now approaching 2 p.m. I thank the representatives and the members for their contributions.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.45 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 February 2010.