Low starting salaries a growing concern for Teagasc

Low starting salaries for new agri-researchers and farm advisors is becoming a growing concern at agri-education authority Teagasc.

Like the rest of the public sector, the semi-state authority – responsible for research and development, as well as training and advisory services in the agri-food sector – pay restrictions and the former moratorium on recruitment has created certain difficulties and inflexibilities around starting pay-scales.

Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle said: “We’re no different to the rest of the public sector, such as nurses – we have the same problems.

“It’s not in every area, there are variations in terms of demand and supply. There are areas where we continue to get very high-quality graduates even at the non-satisfactory pay scale, but basically it doesn’t compensate for the period of time taken to qualify at PhD level.

We’re starting people at €31,000 and that is very uncompetitive. These are people that have spent at least four years studying for a PhD.

“The quality of people we are attracting is outstanding, but we are continually making the argument to the government that we will need to address the issue of pay – but it will have to be a public sector wide solution,” he said.

Since the removal of the moratorium, Teagasc have been operating under a system deployed right across the public sector called “delegated sanction”, where there is a pay cap of €63 million. At the moment, Teagasc are recruiting within that pay cap which, Prof. Boyle says, is leading to some limitations on recruitment.

Prof. Boyle was speaking at the launch of the Teagasc annual report and financial statements at Buswells Hotel in Dublin this morning.

“Our expenditure tends to be dominated by pay-roll, we also – unusually for a semi-state body – administer pensions on behalf of the government to former retirees. There is about 1,700 of them, which is a significant draw on our pensions each year,” he said.

If we exclude pensions from total expenditure, about 40% of our income is generated from our own resources.

“We compete successfully for research projects nationally and internationally, obviously farmers pay us a significant amount of money each year for farm advisory services and students at our colleges pay fees,” he added.

Overview

Teagasc train about 240 PhD students each year through the Teagasc Walsh Fellowship scheme, which attracts students from all over the word. The body has a total of 1,200 permanent staff members, including researchers, teachers, advisors, administrative staff, general operatives and fellowship students.

On top of that there are a number of contract staff that work in research, education and advisory.

It has 51 advisory offices around the country and runs seven agricultural colleges nationwide.

There are currently about 4,500 students taking part in the Green Cert programme; however, Teagasc chairman Dr. Noel Cawlay admitted that demand for the programme is beginning to level off.

“As the economy changes the demand for courses tends to change with it,” he said.

Activity

In 2016, the level of activity in Teagasc increased substantially for the second year in a row.

Excluding net funding for pensions, income in 2016 was €187 million – an increase of €12 million on 2015 income.

Knowledge Transfer income increased by €6.6 million (32%) and research income was similar to the previous year.

In Knowledge Transfer, there was a rise in advisory services income; achieved by delivering a number of new schemes through business partners Farm Relief Services (FRS).

Dr. Noel Cawley said: “Teagasc supported the continued development of agriculture, horticulture and the food sectors in Ireland through its comprehensive, advisory and education programmes.

“It was an extremely busy year for the organisation as we worked closely with the farming community during a period when farm incomes declined on the previous year. The average family-farm income as measured by the Teagasc National Farm Survey was €24,000 in 2016.”

Future research and innovation

Teagasc director, Prof. Boyle said: “Five technology themes have been identified as being the priorities for Irish research and innovation in the coming years. The Teagasc technology foresight identified; plant and animal genomics and related technologies; human, animal and soil microbiota; digital technologies; new technologies for food processing; and transformation in the food value chain system as the priority areas that will shape Irish agriculture.”

Some key developments rolled out by Teagasc last year include the authority’s: online nutrient management planning tool (NMP) to produce detailed nutrient management plans for farms; the merger of PastureBase Ireland and AgriNet grass growth databases; and a new public website.

In terms of output, in 2016 Teagasc serviced more than 42,000 farmer clients, almost 12,500 farmers took part in Teagasc discussion groups, the authority trained more than 170 tutors to deliver the Beef Data Genomics Programme training courses and nearly 4,400 people were enrolled to the adult Green Cert education programme between autumn 2014 and the end of 2016.

The authority also carried out significant research into the impact of Brexit on Irish agriculture.

Key infrastructure projects highlighted at today’s launch were the opening of the new pig research facility in Teagasc Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork and the research centre that opened at Teagasc Ashtown, Co. Dublin.