The president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), has called for “fair play” for trainee farmers while they are on placement as part of their green cert course.

Dermot Kelleher has said that he has concerns around young farmers getting a raw deal on a small minority of host farms while on placement, and has called on Teagasc to remember the duty of care that it has to its trainees.

“I have personally been contacted in a number of cases where the trainee was treated as a source of cheap labour doing the same repetitive task over and over and where learning opportunities were severely constrained,” he said.

Kelleher said that trainees should not be taken advantage of and used to consistently do the less desirable jobs for the entirety of the placement. He said:

“It is fine to expect trainees to pick stones for a day or fork out dung but if the sum total of the placement is pure grunt work, then there is no value in the placement and the host farmer should pay a labourer the going rate.”

The organisation also has concerns around the structure of the interview process that students engage in while on placement. Kelleher said that each trainee should be offered at least two private interviews throughout the placement, with different Teagasc supervisors where there is no conflict of interest.

Teagasc commenced a full review of its practical learning period earlier this year, which it said involved discussions with all stakeholders including students, hosts and staff.

The evaluation is nearing completion and is set to include a number of recommendations on key areas including an increase to the recommended allowance for students, changes to the timing of the placement as well as a review of the Teagasc host-farm register.

Kelleher acknowledged that for the majority of trainee farmers, the on farm placement is “a superb way of gaining invaluable experience and knowledge” and most trainees have positive experiences. However, he reiterated that the system and the host farms must be reviewed on an ongoing basis.