Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018

Teagasc 2017 Annual Report: Discussion

I welcome Professor Gerry Boyle and thank him for coming before the joint committee to discuss Teagasc's annual report for 2017.

Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of a long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Professor Boyle to make his opening statement.

Professor Gerry Boyle

In the interests of time, I do not propose to read my entire statement.

Teagasc has six operational programmes on animal grassland research and innovation; food research; crops environment and land use; the rural economy; advisory services; and education. Members probably know that we have 51 advisory offices throughout the country, down from 90 following the rationalisation programme.

We have four colleges of further education and seven research centres. We also subvent three private colleges in Pallaskenry, Mountbellew and Gurteen.

On our finances, last year our total expenditure was approximately €187 million. We are obliged every year to match expenditure with income. I draw the committee's attention to a somewhat unique feature of Teagasc as a non-commercial body in having a relatively large proportion of non-grant-in-aid income, amounting to some €56 million in 2017. This income comprises: various grants Teagasc receives as a result of success in competitions for research and advisory funds both at national and EU level; advisory fees paid by farmers; education fees; significant farm operations; a small amount of levies from industry; and the sale of a variety of professional services. In 2017 Teagasc received €125 million in grant-in-aid for current expenditure purposes and a further capital grant of €3.15 million. Teagasc uses, unlike many public bodies, part of our grant-in-aid to defray the cost of pensions and we have a large number of pensioners, given the age of the organisation. The total pension Bill amounted to €43 million in 2017. If pension costs are excluded from current expenditure then non-grant-in-aid income was about 45% of the 2017 level of current expenditure.

I will now turn to performance metrics. Teagasc, as a public body, is obliged to operate a rigorous performance and evaluation system that has several layers. We conduct, for example, external peer reviews of all of our programmes on a regular basis, including our administrative programmes. We monitor and track key performance indicators across the organisation. I will not go into detail, but set out in the appendices is the bottom line for us as a non-commercial body. We look at performance on the research side and how internationally competitive we are as to publications and securing external funding for our research. As the committee can see, there is a healthy trend shown.

On the advisory side, we have approximately 43,000 clients - this fluctuates marginally from year to year - who paid Teagasc close to €21 million in charges in 2017. We have about €5 million from education fees. We conduct, by way of communicating knowledge, several activities such as open days, farm walks, conferences, media communications - increasingly through the use of social media - and all of these channels are freely available to all interested parties. We also operate a highly successful fellowship programme for the training of PhDs. At present we have the single largest group, of about 250 students, studying for PhD level in a single subject area, which are all undertaken in partnership arrangements with national and international universities and research agencies.

I should add, Chairman - I neglected to put this in my opening statement - that we also have approximately 20 MSc students in a collaboration with UCD for the training of knowledge transfer or advisory specialists.

Finally, I draw the committee's attention to the various trends in enrolments in Teagasc colleges and at regional offices through our part-time programmes. From 2008 until recently, the numbers exploded in our agricultural colleges. Going back to 2014 approximately, the increase in enrolments in 2008 had been about 250% for year 1.

As the economy has begun to pick up again, these enrolments have fallen back, especially for what we call the further education students. As the Chairman is probably aware, Teagasc partners with a number of institutes of technology in the delivery of degree programmes and with University College Dublin in the delivery of higher education programmes. Enrolments in the higher education courses have been fairly stable. Following the various incentives for young farmers to re-enter education enshrined in the rural development programme of the CAP, there has been a substantial increase in enrolments in part-time and distance education courses. In fact, enrolments are now running at over three times the level that prevailed prior to the rural development programme, RDP, measures. The demand continues to be exceptionally strong, particularly in the north east and north of the country.

I will make a few comments on financial management as they were raised in our annual report. I wish to bring it to the attention of the committee that in the absence of access to borrowing facilities, Teagasc has faced significant challenges in recent years in funding working capital requirements. This issue has become more acute as our non-grant-in-aid income has increased significantly and we might not always be paid promptly. We have to finance the capital involved while we are waiting for payment. Similarly, in the absence of a borrowing facility, longer term capital funding for our research and educational infrastructure is even more challenging. Our grant-in-aid typically earmarks a relatively small amount of funding for infrastructure purposes which is only sufficient to partially cover maintenance costs and some minor capital works. Last year, for example, the capital allocation was €3.15 million. More substantial infrastructure needs are funded as the opportunity arises through the sale of assets that are no longer programme priorities, or through once-off special capital grants from Government. Reliance on asset sales as a funding mechanism is not a sustainable basis on which to fund ongoing infrastructure needs. While we are always appreciative of special capital grants, the process does result in an episodic funding schedule. This approach inhibits Teagasc’s ability to meet its strategic investment needs on a planned and timely basis and our ability to respond rapidly to changing needs, for example climate change, is curtailed. It is not really possible to commit to a medium-term investment plan as grant-based funding requests have to be progressed on a case-by-case basis. Access to longer-term investment funding would be a highly welcome innovation. We do make our case from time to time; in the budget 12 months ago we got a significant capital allocation that we had been seeking for a number of years for a food innovation hub.

There is reference in the statement of internal control to procurement issues and difficulties that we faced. I assure the committee that we are making every effort to be as compliant as possible in respect of procurement practices. Significant improvements can be reported in recent years through the recruitment of specialist staff and the establishment of robust systems of control. It is complex in Teagasc due to the diversified range of activities and the fact that our locations are dispersed across the country. The exceptions reported in the financial statements were brought to the attention of Teagasc itself by the Comptroller and Auditor General. There are really two reasons for their occurrence, neither of which is satisfactory. Quotes being sought from a number of local suppliers rather than advertising through etenders.gov.ie, as was strictly required for the amounts involved. We are nonetheless quite satisfied that this did not adversely affect value for money given the number of quotes sought and the type of services procured. The other reason was the extension of existing contracts for services where the requirement was being reviewed, where there were delays in the implementation of the Office of Government Procurement process or where a similar service had already been procured from that supplier.

I want to stress that while no exceptions can be tolerated, it should be noted that the exceptions amounted to tender values of €1.35 million from a total amount of transactions of €42 million, representing just over 3% of the total.

Professor Boyle made no reference to farm safety. Will he elaborate on the percentage of his budget and expenditure that goes towards that area and what Teagasc's role within the whole farm safety set-up is? How does he think it should be implemented going forward to try to reduce the number of accidents and, indeed, the number of fatalities, which do not seem to be decreasing in any manner? Professor Boyle said at the outset that his report was based on an analysis of Teagasc's performance. I do not believe he could be happy with performance in that particular area. What has been spent on it? How many dedicated employees does it have? What is Teagasc's official role in the whole farm safety sphere? How could it be improved going forward to meet the challenges ahead?

Professor Boyle's presentation was very useful and is a good harbinger. Other people appearing before this committee should do the same. Will he give an outline of how the food innovation hub at Moorepark is going? There is a public-private aspect to that, covering research and development.

On the issue of farm safety, there are 24 or 25 deaths on farms annually now. It is far too high a number, notwithstanding the significant focus on it in recent years. I believe Mr. John McNamara was involved in this area with Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority, HSA. Will Professor Boyle outline what Teagasc is doing in terms of trying to put a code of practice in place to prevent injuries?

I note that there is an issue around procurement. I salute Teagasc as it is not a homogenous organisation. It carries out many diverse activities, so it is very difficult to stick to the various procurement procedures that are laid down. Exceptions are a very minuscule aspect of the entirety of its work, and Teagasc often has to act with great alacrity to ensure that it can continue with its various programmes.

I have raised the issue of Greenfield farm over many years, and Professor Boyle probably expects me to raise it tonight. I know that Dr. Tom Moran, former Secretary General, produced an independent report about it. It is a bit of a blight on the overall activities of Teagasc and its partners. I knew there was a higher mortality rate of cows and calves than what was initially reported. There was bound to be. I read the report, and as a demonstration farm it provided a fairly poor example. The situation that arose called into question the operability and advisability of housing cows and calves in outdoor facilities. These climatic events are going to be quite regular, and there is no excuse for this ever to happen again. I hope that we never have to revisit this issue. I was very annoyed, and indeed a number of people, including members of the farming public, contacted me over this issue as recently as one month ago. Even some farmers from Wicklow were very annoyed about it. It was clearly a vulnerable system. It is all right in New Zealand and other places, but not here.

I am critical because there was a lack of safety statements, anticipatory plans, risk assessment and hazard analysis. It appears that nothing was done. It has been pointed out that this has to be done. The independent review does point to fairer management at times. There is even a reference to adequate food reserves. We cannot bury the facts. They are there. It is not just the mortality of animals, the cows and calves. Those things happen. We are not fools. That happens in ordinary farming. However, when one exposes animals to the elements, there is distress and other issues that arise from the exposure. Everywhere else farmers were running all over the place trying to bring animals in. They were putting animals in sheds that might not have been the best, but people were trying to make do so as to put shelter in place. I accept there were unusual climatic events, but we have to cut out the nonsense of saying that it is a rarity because it looks like it will be commonplace now. I will be keeping an eye on the situation. If we have to come back to deal with this next March or April, someone will have to be brought to book.

I asked Professor Boyle about it because I know he has an interest in the area. Anyone who has ever been involved in agriculture realises the distress that can arise with animals, including hypothermia, in such situations. Will he outline what plans will be put in place to avoid a recurrence of the serious situation that arose in Greenfield farm last spring? I know the weather was extreme. I am not a fool, but I hope that never happens again. It is inevitable that there will be animal losses. Losses are part of farming or any activity. However, the farm is a demonstration farm and it must be held to the highest standards. I hope the augmented facilities take cognisance of the adverse climatic trends and events that are now prevalent in this country.

I welcome Professor Boyle to the committee today. Recognition must be given to the work of Teagasc and how it has brought information and communications technology to farmers. Its mandate has worked very well. I welcome the lifting of the moratorium on recruitment. That is long overdue. With respect, the age of advisers and that of the management structure was increasing and it is vital to bring new blood into any organisation. In terms of the salary levels available to Teagasc, is it able to attract the type of graduates it wants? Are there restrictions on salary levels? What are the guidelines, and are they creating difficulties?

I note that 12,000 farmers are involved in discussion groups. I presume up to 95% of them are dairy farmers. Significant strides could be made in the beef sector if we could get more beef farmers involved in discussion groups. I know from personal experience that talking with one's peers is probably the best way to transfer knowledge and to see the practical advice from Teagasc implemented.

Could Professor Boyle give us the exact number of full-time students in agriculture colleges? How much of a drop has there been in the past two to three years? Teagasc has not been at the forefront of the debate on climate change and the accompanying challenges, and that has been noticeable.

There was a programme on RTÉ One last night about climate change, the bio-economy and the role that agriculture must play. While climate change is a challenge, it is also an opportunity if proper research is carried out. The bio-economy research centre will be based in Lisheen, waste from food processing will be used and a bio-refinery will also be built next year. There are great opportunities for us in sustainable food production, and it would be a shame if Teagasc did not have the budget to produce serious research and advice, not least at farm level. As a committee, we visited University College Dublin and met Professor Kevin O'Connor this summer. The research is proceeding at galloping speed, and the opportunities are virtually endless. As farmers, we are behind the curve of other European farmers on climate change, but there are many income opportunities. I recently spoke with a continental farmer who said his roof with its solar panels was a source of income for him, the cows were the second tier of his income, while the third tier was the slurry that the farm produced. We have a long way to go to get onto that playing pitch, and many resources must be invested at farm level to show farmers the opportunities available.

As well as those opportunities, there are ambitious targets to meet in regard to climate change. Teagasc is without doubt one area where we are not up to speed. Whatever amount of investment the Government needs for Teagasc, a case should be made for a specialised budget on climate change. The year 2020 is coming down the tracks fast and we do not have an earthly chance of meeting the targets imposed on us by the EU. In 2030, there will be even more strenuous targets. There is a significant amount of work to be done, and Teagasc has a role to play at farm level.

I do not wish to put Professor Boyle on the spot but I mentioned to him before the meeting that there is a serious issue with the age of our farming population. The average age does not read well and it appears we are not attracting young farmers into the industry. I have always strongly advocated that the best way to get them into the industry is to ensure a viable income for them.

I apologise for being late for the private session at the beginning of the meeting, but we need to discuss the finance Bill and the ceiling it contains for the number of incentives that young farmers can receive. I would like to see research on what impact that will have, on how many young farmers exceed that ceiling of €70,000, which was included in the finance Bill this year, and on how many stamp duty exemptions or stock relief young farmers qualify for. It is particularly important in the dairy sector, where a young farmer might carry out some expansion, incurring many costs, and stock relief and stamp duty can be highly influential in making those kinds of decisions economically viable. What impact will the €70,000 limit have? Attracting young farmers is important, and I suggest the committee tries to get more information from the Department in that regard.

I welcome Professor Boyle. He described some collaborations with the education sector through institutes of technology and University College Dublin. Is there a defined role for Teagasc in the development of technological universities? To what extent has Teagasc been consulted? Would its participation be more on an ad hoc basis, depending on the particular alliance of colleges involved?

With regard to the various education programmes and courses Teagasc rolls out for young farmers, including the green certificate, does Professor Boyle feel there is more it could do on issues pertaining to climate change? As has been mentioned, we visited the BEACON bioeconomy research centre at UCD, which is encouraging and exciting. There is so much potential and, clearly, technology will keep coming at us.

Another issue that regularly pops up here is that of the weak position of the farmer in the food supply chain. There has been a European-wide consultation on this and measures will be taken particularly vis-à-vis multiple retailers but no solution has been implemented yet. How do we help our farmers add value to their products? We have seen the case of the mushroom farmers with whom UCD is working and the development of plastic as a byproduct from dairy. How will farmers benefit from this so they are not always crying? This is not a derogatory term because it is true. At present, we know the situation with regard to beef. How can there be change for farmers regarding the prices they receive as primary producers and in the context of the bioeconomy? Do they have to form co-operatives? What are the means? Has this been looked at?

Professor Boyle mentioned climate change and our 2025 targets. As Deputy Cahill outlined, there is more we can do with solar panels and anaerobic digestion but no matter what is done, it is not ring-fenced. A farmer with a tractor working off a battery is not assessed on the basis of his farm. The benefit of that carbon reduction may go to transport. Are we in a situation whereby as we increase the national herd and increase our food output we are bound in terms of the obligations? We all speak about how carbon efficient we are, particularly in dairy, and nobody says we do not need to do more. Whatever we do, if we are ramping up production there will be an increase, and if that is beyond what is envisaged for us in the 2020 and 2030 targets, do we need to renegotiate them? We should be upfront about it and be proud of achievements in farming, considering how production has increased since the 1990s and carbon emissions have reduced. Efforts have been made. We need to have a conversation about it. People have become more aware of climate change and want to be active and do something but instead of thinking they should do it themselves, they are looking at farmers and agriculture because they are the source of a significant volume of the country's greenhouse gas emissions but they do not look at the fact that we need to eat. The positives of farming are not being acknowledged. Realistically, where do we go with all of this?

I thank Professor Boyle for coming before the committee. To follow the two previous speakers, I was wondering what Teagasc will do with regard to the IPCC report, which informed us that the climate is warming more rapidly than had been thought. How will the challenges facing agriculture be dealt with in our targets under Food Wise 2025? A number of us are also members of the climate action committee and we are being told that there should be more afforestation but many farmers are concerned about tying up good quality arable land in forestry.

Has Professor Boyle looked at models from other countries that might provide a suitable solution, rather than tying up many acres with it? It might be possible, for example, to plant 1 acre on a particular farm.

I was very interested to see that uptake in respect of the adult distance education green certificate has really increased. Is that a particular course that was designed to be pursued online? Over 1,000 people nationally have signed up to do it.

Has Teagasc carried out an analysis of the potential implications of Ireland not reaching its 2030 climate change targets? The new maps of areas of natural constraint were released in recent weeks.. A number of areas that were included on the previous occasion have been excluded. What part can Teagasc play in an appeals process to assist those who want to make appeals? The maps are based on science. My understanding is that Teagasc played a part in developing the maps based on the evidence it collected in respect of soil types over the past number of years. What part can Teagasc play in assisting appeals when the new appeals board is set up?

Professor Gerry Boyle

It occurs to me straight away to invite the committee to visit Teagasc's offices at some point in the future. Reference was made to the food innovation hub at Moorepark, for which we have secured planning permission. It will probably be constructed in 18 months or so, but it is part of a process of adding value in the mainstream activities, particularly in the dairy sector. We also recently won an Enterprise Ireland regional innovation fund grant, along with Dairygold and Cork County Council, to build an agri-tech hub at our Kilworth farm in order that we might study the whole area of precision agriculture. There is a great deal of activity going on at Moorepark.

On climate change, I would love to have the committee visit Johnstown Castle. I was somewhat disappointed that a Deputy who represents the constituency in which I live stated that Teagasc has not really made a mark in the context of tackling climate change. I strongly disagree with that assertion. We have not been jumping up and down on the rooftops about it but, as far as I am concerned, the only coherent set of policy proposals produced on agricultural transition, as it is known, towards a neutral carbon future, was brought forward by Teagasc. We produced a very comprehensive document last June, A Marginal Abatement Cost Curve for Irish Agriculture, in which we outlined no less that 27 specific, science-based measures which, if adopted, would enable us to substantially achieve our 2030 targets. The Deputies are correct to say that we will not achieve our 2020 targets in any sector. Agriculture is going to be particularly challenging as we move forward. I agree with Senator Mulherin; I have said publicly that it is a perfectly legitimate aspiration for the agricultural sector to grow and for individual farmers to grow their businesses. Ireland has also signed up to internationally binding obligations. Teagasc identified different scenarios in the document to which I refer. We have examined six different scenarios in respect of livestock numbers. I will be happy to make the document in question available to the committee. In fact, it is going to be discussed tomorrow at a meeting of one of the other joint committees.

Emissions in Irish agriculture follow livestock numbers; there is almost a direct correlation.

We have identified potential savings up to 2030 of 9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is significant in the context of a benchmark baseline of 20 megatonnes. As far as I am concerned, we have been leading the way. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine endorsed our proposed measures and the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, recently did the same. We have solved the problem on a spreadsheet and we are the only ones to have laid it out, which we can do because of our in-house expertise. However, in spite of the weather over the past year, there is poor awareness among farmers of climate change in general and, specifically, the issue of ammonia, which I have been raising for some time.

The challenge in respect of ammonia is significant and will be difficult to address. Action needs to be taken on awareness and farm adoption. Teagasc research indicates that farmers who switch from using calcium ammonium nitrate as a source of nitrogen to using stabilised urea would achieve the same yield in gas production, but greenhouse gases and ammonia would be reduced. However, it is difficult to persuade farmers to make that change. There is currently no significant difference in the cost of the two fertilisers. Over several years we have shown that the application of slurry using trailing shoe technology leads to a significant reduction in emissions.

The measures are available; adoption is the issue. Although is not within our remit, it is important that policy support action in this area. We have suggested that the next CAP be used to ensure that measures are consistent. If the committee were to visit Johnstown Castle, members would be given a full run-down on the research. We are expending significant resources in this area. We must expend more in future because the measures we have identified are based on current knowledge. The field of additives is rapidly changing. In the past three weeks, we met representatives of three companies, which have each developed a feed additive product. Of course, the companies are optimistic about their products which must be analysed and so on. It is a rapidly changing field in which we are investing significant resources. The challenges will be in respect of adoption and policy to back up those measures.

Reference was made to forestry. I previously described forestry as a get-out-of-jail clause for the agricultural sector because we estimate that 3 megatonnes or one third of the savings we have identified may come from forestry. Thankfully, enough trees were grown over the past 30 or 40 years to get us to 2030, but if the rate of plantation is not increased, there will be a serious difficulty in 2030. We estimate that new plantations will decline to 4,500 ha this year. The target is approximately 8,000 ha or 8,500 ha. The rate of plantation has fallen consistently over the past two years. There is a significant problem in that regard. As members will be aware, there is significant opposition to forestry in certain parts of the country. We must convince farmers, particularly dairy farmers, that they should have an interest in trees. There is a big opportunity to have native woodland plantations on every dairy farm in the country. I was surprised by the significant percentage of forest area on dairy farms, but there is more potential in that regard. It would be a fantastic gesture on behalf of the dairy sector to demonstrate its willingness to address the issue of climate change.

On renewables, we have identified the potential of energy crops and so forth. It is limited enough in the sense that there can be a displacement of fossil fuels. I have been a strong advocate of anaerobic digestion but the policy environment must be right. We have built a demonstration plant in Grange, which is about to be commissioned, to illustrate to farmers how one can use the grass-based biomass to produce high-quality gas. We have also been discussing with a number of entities how that might be developed further. There is a great deal happening, but the policy follow through is an issue.

Senator Paul Daly referred to farm safety. Some colleagues who are here and members of this committee were at the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts when the Chairman raised the issue of farm safety. I am sure all of us have experienced a tragedy on a farm so we are all very aware of it. Teagasc works very closely with the Health and Safety Authority. Our remit is to deliver advice and the authority has a different remit from ours but we have a collaboration agreement with it. We do quite an amount of research because this is a very challenging area. Most farmers have an awareness of the issues and hazards but despite that, they still engage in practices that are clearly not safe. We have carried out a great deal of research on the behaviour that motivates this type of attitude to health and safety and we have acquired many insights that can advise our advisory activity. However, the Senator is 100% right. If one were to use the metric of farm fatalities and, more generally, farm injury one would not be pointing to a positive trend.

We constantly try to work on this. For example, we are appointing an additional specialist in farm health and safety. The specialist works closely with our 260 advisers. That is how we do it. We deliver the messages. At almost every farm discussion group, there is a health and safety topic, but I would be the first to say that it is clearly not working. Sermonising and preaching are not enough. That is the reality. I am happy to say that there has been a welcome improvement in the number of child fatalities. The farmyard business and the household have to be separate in my opinion. It is a dangerous place for young people, yet we see many transgressions. We are appointing a new specialist and we are trying to adapt the insights from research. A number of entities, including the Department, could, in my opinion, work more closely, particularly in the context of promotional campaigns. We should all be involved in this together. We are involved in promoting the code of practice and we have training programmes. Despite the massive effort the challenge has been elusive so far. I wish I could suggest today what will make a difference. At the same time we have long been of the view that regulation or enforcement does not work. It is hard to put in place the level of inspectorate that is required. I strongly believe it does not work but at the same time we must review what is happening.

Deputy Penrose raised a number of important issues that I wish to address. With regard to the food innovation hub, we have planning permission and we hope it will be completed in 18 months or so. It will be a very important development. There are already approximately 14 companies in Moorepark. They are from all over the country and some are from overseas but are doing business in Ireland.

They have stated that they want a facility on site where they can have complete confidentiality, while at the same time being in a position to use the shared resources available. That is the strategy behind this. It is all about providing added value. I am not talking about a more exotic final consumer products lists, but there is a lot of valued added in food ingredients, particularly in infant formula. We call it the smart ingredients approach. It is probably not all that visible, but it is where the innovation lies for the producers of these products.

I want to address the issue of Greenfield farm.

I thank Professor Boyle for his report; we have received it.

Professor Gerry Boyle

I promised to provide it a number of months ago when this issue was raised. I want to address those issues now. We have several demonstration farms, the whole point of which is that one learns as much from the bad outcomes as the good ones. It was in that spirit that we commissioned a report, alongside Greenfield farm. We wanted to have experts look at this episode, so we asked Mr. Tom Moran, the former Secretary General, to chair the investigation. We hired an international expert in the field of animal welfare under extreme conditions from the United States, and a number of other eminent people. We also had one person from our board, who is a diary farmer. The Deputy said that we cannot bury the findings of this report. Teagasc has no intention of burying any findings. I would like to think that this report provides a very candid account in which no punches are pulled in the context of the Greenfield episode. It is a wake-up call for us, and is also a wake-up call for farmers in the context of climate change. Colleagues who know more about the science of these things than I would say that we cannot point to the past year as evidence of climate change, but for the lay person and the average farmer it was. The episode was unprecedented. It was certainly the case that none of the people working on the farm on a day-to-day basis had any experience of events like that ever occurring in their lifetimes. The lesson for me concerned adaptation. We have to have really robust training programmes in place. I am an ex officio member of the Climate Change Advisory Council, and I have been making the point that we have to simulate these conditions. That comes across in the report, but from talking to the people involved it is clear that it was a frightening experience.

Teagasc is not a shareholder in Greenfield farm. We provide top-level managerial advice, and the farm manager reports to the so-called Moorepark officer on the ground. We are clearly not standing back from our responsibilities in terms of what is identified in the report. From my point of view there are three things to be actioned. The governance structure lacks clarity, as became clear after the fact. Things were going very well, and many young farmers set up farms following the model who would not have been able to set up farms otherwise. When I called for this report I was asked to meet approximately 30 of them from all over the country. Only one of those people was over the age of 35. They were a fantastic bunch of individuals who were able to start up their business because of the blueprint provided at Greenfield. They stuck at it. The difference between those farmers and Greenfield was that as they started to make a surplus they began to invest in their facilities a bit more.

There was a dynamic component to what they were doing. From that perspective, that element was a success. The Deputy is 100% correct, however. We are not going to hide anything here. There are lessons associated with governance, and clarification is required. We have already actioned that. It is going to happen.

An inexcusable issue arose in the context of the health and safety statements and an arrangement needed to be put in place. That has obviously happened after the fact. Issues arose that will be outside our control but we will certainly be advising the board of the farm to examine the facilities. The facilities identified in the report to be of most concern were those for the calving house.

On animal fatalities, two cows and four calves died immediately due to the adverse circumstances, and two others died shortly thereafter. We are saying two cows and six calves comprised the total. That is not acceptable. Obviously, no animal death is acceptable. In fairness, this must be considered against the background of a fairly good animal health and mortality record on the farm. That is documented in the report. The farm, unlike many private farms, is under the public gaze. We have learned an awful lot from that. I take the Deputy's point that if there is no improvement, I expect to be back here answering the legitimate questions raised.

The farm is based on a New Zealand model. Would Professor Boyle say that the New Zealand model is not fit for purpose in Ireland?

Professor Gerry Boyle

I do not believe we could say that. Taking the report into account, a number of adjustments could be made to that system. They will cost money but the system could be adapted.

My point on the New Zealand model is that we are running fast to stand still to a certain extent. It is getting bigger and bigger and there are more overheads. Professor Boyle said the system has been adopted by a number of younger farmers. It is great to see younger farmers getting involved in farming. This issue is one of the main ones, and it might have been referred to earlier. A farm not too far from my home has a model similar to the one in question, and similar issues arose during the difficult period. There was a feeding deficit and there were animal welfare difficulties owing to the weather. The model is cheaper to get into but the consequences-----

Professor Gerry Boyle

One has to ask what is the New Zealand model. One of its characteristics is scale. I have my own views on that. We can drive scale so far in this country but one runs into obstacles, as the farm in question did very quickly in the context of labour. We will never replicate the scale in New Zealand. The weather is different. It depends on whether one is on the North Island or the South Island. The weather on the North Island is more like that in Ireland.

The project laid out the business plan. We have learned that there was not really a dynamic element in it in terms of determining when there should be a pause to decide on making a new investment and so on. On a typical farm, that is exactly what happens. Every young farmer is short of cash and will take risks because he or she has to. If young farmers do not have the cash, they cannot borrow enough. They try to build up and when they have a surplus, they say it is time to put in place creature comforts for themselves and the animals. That is the way it typically evolves. The farm in question has got to the point where the pause button has been pressed. There will have to be investment as a consequence of what happened. That will be picked up by farmers. We have learned a great deal.

Deputy Cahill raised a few issues concerning the moratorium. I have to agree with him. We are delighted the moratorium has been lifted.

I have made no bones about my view that starting salaries for researchers and advisers in the organisation are a major problem which is only getting worse by the day. I acknowledge that we are no different from the rest of the public sector and that we will not be top of the queue for any adjustment in the near future, unlike other sectors with a higher profile. However, the starting salary for someone who has completed a PhD that takes four or sometimes five years, is €32,500, which is simply not competitive. Not only is it not competitive with the private sector, which we would not expect it to be, it is not competitive with the university sector. That is our main problem, as that is where we are competing. It is an issue and we have to go down the line sometimes to less qualified candidates. Sometimes people take up the position, stay a short while and go. Sometimes we have had to go through several interviews to get people. It is an issue and I cannot see a quick solution to it. It is bound up with the national public finances. I have an economics background and can understand the wider macroeconomic issues, but we have serious concerns.

There is no doubt that discussion groups have worked in the dairy sector. They have been less successful in beef, but with the knowledge transfer scheme, beef farmers have come into the system and we are reasonably confident that a number of them will stay on when the scheme ends next year. The message that we are trying to get across to them is that the concession farmers received for joining the scheme pales into insignificance in comparison with the benefits to profitability and incomes.

I do not have the detailed figures on student enrolments, but I will supply them to the committee. In general, however, there has been a levelling off over the past few years in college attendance. In fact, it has dropped back a little. It is not uniform across the country. For example, Ballyhaise has maintained numbers for some reason and bucked the trend a little. However, college enrolments have been more than offset by the part-timers. Someone mentioned the distance education students. There are great incentives by way of grant aid and there was access to the national quota reserve for a period for those about to inherit farms. Such people have to get a qualification, which is why there was a major influx of people with other qualifications, including accountants, solicitors and an array of others who were eligible for the distance programme. That is why they came in. Equally, there has been a significant increase in the number of people with farming backgrounds who did not have prior qualifications and so must go the part-time route at our regional centres. In particular, we have approximately 2,000 people on a waiting list in the north and north east. We hope to work down through that demand but it is difficult to do so with the limited resources we have.

I will talk to Deputy Cahill again at some stage about our work on climate change. It has been front and centre in the national response. I will follow up on the point about stamp duty. I was not aware of that issue.

We are not adapting at farm level with solar panels and digesters. There has been no innovation at farm level.

Professor Gerry Boyle

I do not disagree.

That is what I meant. I attended the briefing Teagasc gave in Buswells. I am not saying it does not have the facts but-----

It has not transferred.

Professor Gerry Boyle

That is the challenge. It is a combination of intensive advisory activity and, albeit it is not my area, putting policy support behind that.

For example, on the solar panels, every Teagasc dairy farm in the first instance will have photovoltaic, PV, panels, hopefully, by the end of next year, as will all our colleges. That is a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. We are hoping to work with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Senator Mulherin asked about the technological universities. We have partnerships with virtually all the institutes of technology and with UCD and UCC. We are not directly involved in any of the discussions around the establishment of the new universities, except in that a lot of the universities will want Teagasc to support their research activity. For example, I mentioned the Walsh fellowship programme which funds 250 PhD students. A number of those would be within institutes of technology and we would expect the number to increase with the technological universities. Our partnership would be more at that end. We have very strong partnerships with Dundalk, Waterford and Cork Institutes of Technology, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, and a number of others.

Is that at the Galway campus or Mountbellew?

Professor Gerry Boyle

It is at Mountbellew. We have a long-standing relationship with GMIT. The Senator asked a very good question about climate change on the education curriculum. Last June, we published our education vision blueprint, which is a programme to take us up to 2050. Believe it or not, the green cert is about 30 years old. In educational terms, 30 years is a very short time. The curriculum is constantly improving. At the moment, we do not have autonomy on the design of the curriculum but have to defer to Quality and Qualifications Ireland, the supervisory body. We hope to get autonomy and, when we do, we will be able to respond to changing needs far more quickly. At the moment, sustainability more broadly, including climate change, is part of the curriculum. The Senator is absolutely right that it is going to increase in the future.

The question about the farmer in the food supply chain is a hardy chestnut. Unfortunately, Irish farmers have very little control over prices because of the nature of the market. Their price tapers, effectively. In some niche markets they probably have a little bit more influence but certainly in the broader commodities they do not. They can influence the quality of the product, of course, which makes a massive difference to the price they get. Our approach is to focus on research as a driver of value added, which hopefully will translate into benefits for the farmer and certainly will translate into greater efficiencies on the farm, which will give the farmer a little bit more headroom. The issue that is very evident to me in the food sector, particularly for commodity production, is that quality, food provenance and sustainability of production are becoming requirements for being in the marketplace. It is not that the farmer is going to get a premium for producing his product in this way but that doing so is a requirement. That is becoming very evident.

Deputy Corcoran Kennedy raised the question about the IPCC report. It should be a wake-up call for us all. We have identified measures that, if implemented, would allow us to square the circle between growth in dairy production and the need to adhere to very stringent targets.

Presumably, the punishment for not meeting the targets will be significant fines. I am not sure what will happen in 2020 but even if a small fine has to be paid, the visibility of that would create massive difficulties. A continuation of breaches in our increased emissions will point to an inability or unwillingness on the part of the country to address the challenges. One would always be worried that while the whistle has not blown yet, it may blow in the not-too-distant future if we continue the way we are going, and none of us know how that will work out.

The Chairman asked a difficult question about our role in appeals. As he said, we were involved in a research exercise initially. When the original maps came out, Ireland was going to be a substantial net loser from the way in which they were constructed. If I recall what my colleagues told me at the time, that was for the simple reason that the officials in Europe who put this map together had forgotten that Ireland is a wet country. We rebalanced things at the time and I am more comfortable in us engaging in that high-level role than engaging in an individual case-by-case submission. Any farmer who wants to make an appeal can draw on the research we have, which is publicly available.

Does Teagasc have information on townlands as regards the soil type that may be of assistance to farmer Y to make his appeal?

Professor Gerry Boyle

Yes, we have that. We completed eventually the full soil map of Ireland, which is now available. We would like it to be available in more detail but it is a resource. We are also building up a large volume of localised data on livestock systems and grass production. All that information is publicly available.

Following on from that, if farmer Y is not a client of Teagasc but wants to make an appeal, will there be a cost involved in him or her accessing that information?

Professor Gerry Boyle

No. All that information is publicly available. As I said earlier, we have a remit to serve all farmers. Only some of the farmers - approximately one third - are paying clients. We discharge that responsibility primarily through publications, information on the web and so on. All of that is available for any farmer.

There are two further questioners. Deputy Kenny will be followed by Senator Lombard.

I apologise for missing the early part of the meeting; I had to attend another event. I thank Professor Boyle for his contribution. I would like a steer on one issue. Teagasc does a good deal of research, which is the potential for different uses of land. I am interested in the further development of that research. Research and development are the buzz words we hear everywhere. I am conscious that much of the research that is done can prove the economic viability of a concept at a certain scale but commercialising that and making it a reality requires somebody to take it on, and usually it is left to the private sector to do that. While farmers may have an interest in issues such as the work done on willow, miscanthus and different grasses, Professor Boyle is talking about developing a sector and not just developing an additional farm enterprise. There is no point in growing this stuff unless it will be processed and brought to market somewhere and there is a clear track it can go down to ensure people can believe in it.

In respect of that, is there a gap there? If there is, how can it be filled? I understand it is not Teagasc’s place to bring that to a conclusion. However, how or where does Professor Boyle think that could be brought to a conclusion and where we could develop these trialled ideas as viable alternative sectors for farmers in many areas?

I apologise I missed most of Professor Boyle’s presentation as I had to attend a vote.

Will he comment on the financial trends he produced to the committee? Pensions seem to be a large part of this, accounting for €43 million. Where does he see that figure going and how much will it be? Does he feel, like many organisations do, that pensions will become a burden and affect Teagasc’s capacity to expand its service? It is an issue for the State. Where does Professor Boyle feel that pension issue will come into play?

He replied regarding what happened at the Greenfield farm, County Kilkenny, during the severe weather events. Media reports stated there were three Teagasc personnel, members of the Phelan family and an Irish Farmers’ Journal staff member to help on that occasion. There was a significant labour issue. How does having two members of staff overseeing 370 cows fit into a farming model when there is a crisis? Few farmers could call on such expertise of that labour if they were in that crisis. The lack of labour is a significant issue for the agricultural community. How does this tie in with what happened in Greenfield and the recommendations about changes to animal housing and so forth?

Professor Gerry Boyle

Deputy Martin Kenny raised an interesting question. Unless research is used, it is useless. Teagasc conducts research in both agriculture and food. The most significant challenge we have is not so much doing the research but getting it adopted. I have often spoken about two contrasting situations. For example, there was the successful adoption of work we have done along with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, on the economic breeding index, EBI, for dairy. I consider that to be one of the most successful pieces of research done in the history of agriculture in Ireland. The beginning of that work goes back 20 years when there was a significant problem with fertility in the dairy herd. That is almost resolved now. Since then, we have also introduced genomic selection. We are the second country in the world to do it. A year ago, I asked my colleagues to put some economic numbers on this. Conservatively, they reckon the benefit-cost ratio is 20:1. The EBI has been going up year on year. It is a simple index of the profitability of dairy production. It is going up by the rate of €10 a year.

What is interesting about that is the research is complex. The head of research in Teagasc, Dr. Frank O'Mara, often says that when one looks under the bonnet. it is complicated and one closes it quickly. The implementation is simple, however. We will tell farmers to buy a combination of straws, spread their risks, look at the traits in which they are interested and whether the farmer is involved in liquid milk or manufacturing milk. It is simple and then the advisory service comes in behind that.

On the other hand, although I am forever an optimist, I am disappointed in the uptake of some of the grassland work we have done. It was a massive challenge to get farmers to adopt what are straightforward technologies. We are working on that and have put in a lot of investment at both research and advisory levels. The contrast is interesting. It is probably fair to say that the science is not as involved on the grassland side as it is on the breeding side, yet the uptake has not been as good as we would have liked. We have to look at how we can devise systems. It is a whole-system approach when grassland is used optimally. The farmer has to be linked in as regards his or her fertiliser and the grass seed company. He or she has to be capable of measuring the grass and recording the information. There are many elements to it and critical elements may not work well in the system. We are looking at the measurement side at the moment to see if we can encourage companies or one-person operations to provide a service in grass measurement to farmers, creating a new market. That would enable the information to be uploaded to the pasture database. The advisory service could be brought in at that point. Advice in the future will be database-led. The advisor will not have to visit the farmer any more. If the farmer has the information on a mobile phone, the advisor could be anywhere in the world and could look at the grass wedge and talk to the farmer about it.

Increasingly, we are going to have to think about the development of new systems of production. One of the best examples going back a long time is in the mushroom industry, although it has had a lot of trouble more recently with Brexit and everything else and has changed utterly. However, that industry was established purely out of research. It did not exist before a concerted programme of research was put in place to create it. In many respects, that is where we are now. An area that is going to require that kind of system-wide thinking is the future development of the beef system. In the past, there was greater integration between dairy and beef than there is now. The quota intervened and created massive growth in beef. We are going to have to examine how we can achieve greater integration. It will be a challenge because it will not happen through the marketplace. All of the pressures are the opposite there. There is great opportunity for good beef-stock men in the growth of contract rearing of heifers and so on. At the same time, there is a responsibility on all of us involved with the dairy sector to make sure the quality of calf produced can lead to a decent quality, valuable beef animal. The market will not deliver that so there has to be some way of developing the system. I could give other examples. I have seen successful agroforestry development in other countries, which is a new system. In the energy area, the greatest problem in much of the development is that there is no market. The farmer learns how to use biomass to produce energy and then finds that the market does not exist or it is highly volatile, and he or she goes out of business. I am not sure what the answer is but the Deputy has identified an important issue in respect of robust agricultural systems can be created into the future. There are both opportunities and challenges.

Senator Lombard referred to pensions. We are a bit unusual in that the pension comes out of our grant-in-aid. Officials in Departments do not worry about that because the payments come out of central funding, as is the case with many other public bodies. Our pension is a pay-as-you-go system. It operates on the same basis as the rest of the public sector in that the concern around pensions is a wider concern than just Teagasc. Each year, we negotiate with our parent Department on our grant-in-aid for the following year. It is not too difficult for us to forecast retirements and so on. To date, the facts have been responded to appropriately. However, there is a bigger issue around public sector pensions of which I am sure all the members are well aware. In a different life, I certainly had some interest in that.

In the context of Greenfield farm, the Senator identified that there was a significant response on the day of the storm from a number of my colleagues. The Senator mentioned the Phelans and so forth. I would like to think that people in most parts of Ireland would club together in a crisis situation. That is the nature of things. The conditions were atrocious and that is one of the issues picked up on in the report. People truly did go above and beyond the call of duty on the day - I know that phrase is sometimes misused.

The Senator raises a bigger issue in respect of the labour situation and the numbers of cows. There is an acute labour situation on dairy farms. For some reason and oddly enough, not as many issues arose in respect of the farms as was the case last year. We took an initiative last year on foot of a request from the Minister to set up a group to examine the sourcing of labour within and outside the country. One of the biggest problems, which is a fundamental flaw in the model, is that we cannot have untrained people working on dairy farms. The challenge lies in recovering the cost of the training. Teagasc provided a subvention in a small scheme last year. We trained up people who were on unemployment assistance in a couple of colleges. That cost us and we were not able to recover the cost subsequently.

Was there much take-up of that scheme?

Professor Gerry Boyle

Very little. It was disappointing. We had looked at overseas as well. On foot of our work on that committee, we got a change in the migrant worker permits but, again, the take-up has been very poor to date. It is a slow burner. Our research suggests that once a farmer has approximately 120 cows, there will be a labour situation in most cases. Even at 120 cows, factoring in reasonable allowance for days off and so on, the farmer will need some casual labour support. That is the difficulty. There is a great opportunity. We have done all the sums and there would probably be a couple of thousand jobs in it over the next four or five years. There is also the issue of salary, however. We will have 20 or 25 new managers graduating on Friday. They will expect to get significantly above the minimum wage. Not every farm can afford those kinds of wages. I do not have an answer for the Senator.

That completes our presentation. I thank Professor Boyle for appearing before the committee. Likewise, I thank him for his invitation to visit Moorepark. It is part of our work schedule, and the good news is that we intend visiting towards the end of January. We will work on that date as we progress but we look forward to the visit. It would be important for our members to see the work that is taking place, as we did when we visited UCD before the summer where we saw the work being developed in the BEACON. It is very beneficial for our committee to see exactly what is happening so we look forward to that visit in the new year.

As there is no further business, the meeting is adjourned until next Tuesday at 3.30 p.m.

The joint committee adjourned at 7.26 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 December 2018.