The Irish education system needs to change how it teaches, according to the former Director of Teagasc Liam Downey, who said that farmers need to think ‘food’ not just farming.

Ireland, he says, has the knowledge to develop the model of knowledge generation and knowledge mobilisation.

“We have invested a fortune in research in Europe and Ireland and we have invented a knowledge mountain and is as real as butter and meat mountains.”

While this has produced a highly educated workforce, he said it has done very little for innovation in Irish agriculture.

“We need to concentrate on knowledge harvesting; translation and communication.

“Over the past 20 years at least 250,000 farmers have been trained in the Teagasc system and are now running farms and the elephant in the room was the quality and effectiveness of agricultural education ad training.

“We need to fundamentally reform our eduation and training. Famers and agriculturists must think food, not just farming.”

He said that while one group is trained in farming another is trained in food. “We need integrated agri-food education and training.”

He also said that the delivery of eduction must be improved and must become problem-based education and training.

“It’s used extensively in Europe and has improved the capacity in areas across the board, but it does cost to change the present system.

“Teagasc has been making steps in this direction and introduces problem solving approaches in young farmer education.”

Continued professional development of farmers, he said, should be delivered through discussion groups.

He also said that farm productivity (increased output from a fixed volume of inputs) has stalled in the past decades, he told a recent conference, and feed conversion efficiency is one of the better ways of improving farm productivity and reducing waste.

“When it comes to animal nutrition I’m not sure we’d get a pass mark. We have not matched the improvement we have seen in genetics and we must. Genetics produces the potential, nutrition delivers it.”

He questioned how serious Irish farmers are about animal nutrition. “How many samples of silage are tested for quality in Ireland every year? It’s disappointingly low.

“The number of famers who test silage is embarrassingly low. If farmers are not applying fundamental things like testing silage and soil, what expectation should we have they would implement more advanced technologies?”