Govt to pump €20m a year into rural knowledge drive

UPDATEKnowledge transfer is a key proposal in Ireland’s new Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020.

The new initiative, with a costing of €20m per year, ties in with a host of innovative measures designed to enhance farm viability and competitiveness contained in Food Harvest 2020.

According to the consultation document published by the Government this week, the new measures aim to promote efficiency and supporting the shift towards a low carbon and climate resilient economy.

A number of key mechanisms are being proposed.

Firstly knowledge transfer groups will be designed to improve farmers skills and change behaviour to address competitiveness and sustainability challenges. Areas of focus related to financial management, animal health, grassland management, carbon efficiency and breeding. It is planned that farmer participation in this programme will be linked to other RDP measures, for example, participation in the beef sector knowledge transfer group will be linked to participation in the beef data and genomics measure. It is also planned to address social issues here, such as succession planning and the role of women on farms.

The second component planned is a targeted advisory service on animal health and welfare of farm specific advice such as BVD and Johnes Disease, as well as the control or mitigation of chronic or recurring elevated somatic cell counts (SCC). The estimated target here is 1,800 farmers in the case of SCC based on 10 per cent of the total population of 18,000 dairy herds; 1,500 farmers for Johne’s disease risk assessment; and 1,950 BVD farm investigations, estimated at 0.5 per cent of the total number of dairy and suckler herds.

Thirdly, the Department of Agriculture also plans to drive innovation and research to farm practice under a new European Innovation Partnership. This proposed grouping will bring together farmers, researchers, advisors and agri-businesses with the aim of advancing innovation in the agriculture sector. Priority here include environmental and climate change challenges, and increased on-farm efficiency.

Locally-led agri-environment projects and a beef data and genomics improvement group are planned.

The fourth component of this new measure includes the continued training of agriculture and vet advisors. The department noted there was a clear link in the success of these proposed new groups and advisors. It said upskilling is required so that advisors are in a better position to provide advice to farmers. Areas of focus here include technology, financial management, best environmental practice, biodiversity management, water management and renewable energy among others.

In a statement today, Teagasc welcomed these key agricultural measures.

Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle said: “These knowledge transfer measures will be prioritised for dairy expanders and new entrants but will also be used to help improve efficiency and profitability in the beef and sheep sectors.  Knowledge transfer groups will address areas such as financial management, grassland management, breeding, animal health and carbon management.”

Teagasc also welcomed the new beef data and genomics measure as a means of improving the quality of the national beef herd. This new measure will use the science of genomics to improve the quality of cattle and increase the overall productivity and efficiency of the Irish suckler beef herd.

Director of Research in Teagasc, Dr Frank O’Mara said: “The Suckler Beef Genomics Scheme is a great opportunity to bring the advantage of genomic technology to suckler farmers as has been demonstrated in the dairy industry, and we will work closely with Irish Cattle Breeding Federation in developing the cutting-edge science needed for the implementation of this technology.”

According to Teagasc, the support for setting up formal collaborative farming arrangements will assist new entrants into the business, particularly into dairying, which could lead to improved efficiencies at farm level.

Professor Boyle said the announcement of the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Rural Development Programme creates a platform from which farmers can plan the future of their individual business out to 2020.

This story was updated at 10.23pm