New discussion group scheme fraught with difficulties – IFA

The IFA has hit out at the Department of Agriculture over its new discussion group scheme highlighting low participation rates in the scheme.

IFA Rural Development Chairman Joe Brady has said uptake on the Knowledge Transfer measure has fallen short of expectations due to the complex and rigid rules imposed, as well as the requirements for farmers to incur additional costs.

Brady said this measure, which was allocated €100m in the RDP, was expected to attract 27,000 farmers but the numbers have fallen short with only around 20,000 farmers partaking.

This will lead to a saving of around €30m, which must be either used on other measures in the RDP or to reopen a more flexible Knowledge Transfer measure in 2017.

The IFA Rural Development Chairman said that the Knowledge Transfer scheme is a valuable measure in improving the technical knowledge of farmers, however he says it has got bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.

Brady said the IFA had told the Department of Agriculture on numerous occasions that the scheme was fraught with difficulties.

“These include the attempt by vets to impose veterinary charges, concerns about the payment mechanism to farmers through Teagasc and the consultants, and the onerous rules which will apply to farmers participating,” he said.

Brady also highlighted that the numbers participating in dairying and sheep is less than those that previously applied under the old discussion groups.

He said in many mixed farm enterprises such as cattle and sheep, farmers are choosing the beef Knowledge Transfer group rather than the sheep group as the partial payment for the second group is not attractive enough.

According to Brady an opportunity exists in the RDP Amendment, which is shortly to be sent to Brussels, to review the measure.

He said the challenge will be to ensure that the 20,000 farmers already in Knowledge Transfer groups continue to participate and to determine whether more farmers can be attracted in.