Agri consultancy sector to be hit hard by loss of REPS

In the region of 13,000 farmers will leave the rural environmental protection scheme (REPS) this year.

This will not only mean a reduction in income for those farmers, but will also have a significant impact on the many agricultural consultants, which relied on the scheme for income.

Speaking to AgriLand this afternoon, Mike Brady, president of the Agricultural Consultants Association said “it is a huge issue for our members”.

“Lots of our members are purely dependent on the schemes. This year was the last good year for REPS really. There will be no scheme in 2014. As of now with the scheme in the new Common Agricultural Policy deal, we don’t know what role of consultants will play in it.”

Brady continued: “Already there are loads of consultants out there that have let staff go. We are trying to do the best we can for the industry. It’s unfortunate because farmers will only realise a good service when it’s gone.

“Some of our members need retraining and up skilling in certain areas such as technical advice. It’s going to be very difficult. I have made a living from advising diary farmers. I am in dairying advice since 1989. At that time there was quite a bit of activity in the sector. However things slowed down again around 1999 and my business didn’t grow again until 2007. Now dairying has took off again and we are very busy.

“The turnover in my consultancy business has remained stable. This is due to an increase in the advisory side to dairy sector. However the REPS side has reduced dramatically.”

The ACA president said the minister has affectively “washed his hands” of the issue. “The minister does not have any interest in this issue as far as I can see. He basically said, ‘It’s an issue between you and Teagasc’. Teagasc’s original mandate had a public good role. It should be involved in retraining and upskilling the private sector. I believe the minister should get involved in this.

“One way that would help would be from Teagasc to hand over the single farm payments applications, Nitrates applications and those types of tasks to private sector. To keep it alive. At the moment he said there are three types of consultant out there there are those who are flexible willing to change and adopt new practices, those who will struggle to keep up and those who will fall by the wayside altogether,” he noted.

“There has to be away found for the private sector to compete. At the moment we have a strong public and private advisory sector. No other country has that,” he stressed. “In that way a farmer gets the best of both worlds. We are there to keep the public sector on their toes.”

In terms of the compulsory pesticide training and pesticide registration by the Department of Agriculture over the next two years, Brady welcomed the move but called for clarification on the levels of qualification that will need to be required. “We have made numerous submissions to the department. We have been adamant all along that a degree-level should be required. We will defiantly be involved in the training side of this both for our own members and for others,” he concluded.

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