Teagasc Past - Advisory
Prior to the establishment of the national advisory and training body (ACOT), each of the 27 county units (local authorities) provided separate advisory services under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture. Under this structure it was difficult to ensure a consistent standard of service, staff training and development was inadequate and the service lacked a cohesive programme and strategic direction. Each agricultural adviser operated on a geographic area and dealt with all agricultural enterprises in that area.
Set up in 1980, the national advisory and training body (ACOT), was responsible for establishing a regional management structure, together with a team of specialists at each region whose job it was to provide the programme leadership for each enterprise, in-service training for staff and technical support when dealing with difficult problems.
The specialists also had a major role in linking the advisory service with research services, from the point of view of the transfer of research results to advisers and through the advisers on to farmers. They were also a mechanism for feeding problems back to the researchers.
It became apparent, with the increasing level of specialisation and intensification of farms following on from Ireland's accession to the EU, that enterprise specialisation was essential if the advisers were to remain relevant to better farmers. Specialisation of front line advisers in all of the major enterprises and their deployment into local district teams was completed in 1983 and was an immediate success.
At the beginning of 1987 the Irish Government decided that charges for advisory services had to be introduced. There was little opportunity for any extensive market research amongst the farming population but we did examine how the advisory services in countries such as England and Wales (ADAS), Scotland and New Zealand were facing a similar challenge.
It was decided to operate a basic advisory charge for a standard annual advisory contract and also to offer a variety of advisory packages in addition to the basic service. A strategic decision was taken to set changes at a level which would ensure contact with the maximum number of farmers.
The charges were introduced in July 1987 and current income for the fee paying clients accounts for 30% of the overall cost of the advisory service.
Charging has lead to a more businesslike relationship between the farmer client and the adviser and the development of services that are focused on the needs of the client. Successful advisers are more confident about the value of their service to farmers. Willingness to pay places value on the service received.
Advisory Staff Numbers
Advisory staff from 1980-1999 (excludes 100 contracts REPS advisors)
The number of advisors fell from over 600 in 1980 to 350 in 1993 due to the cutbacks in funding in the late 1980's, which resulted in the discontinuation of some services and the non-replacement of staff who retired. Additional funding throughout the 1990's led to a recovery in advisory staff numbers to around 450 plus 100 contract Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) advisers.