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Teagasc Past - Research

The Agricultural Institute

This was established in 1958 during a period of revolutionary thinking in national economic policy. Whitaker's Economic Development and the highly innovatory First Programme for Economic Expansion, both published in 1958, accorded priority to productive investment in agricultural development and saw the agricultural sector as being of prime importance in promoting economic and social science.

The Agricultural Institute put in place a national programme of agricultural research, which underpinned dramatic developments in Irish agriculture and enabled it to benefit from access to new markets following accession to the EEC (now EU) in 1973.

While maintaining close contact with the industry, the Institute, from the beginning, emphasised the importance of developing a comprehensive science base and scientific skills. In this regard, it placed particular emphasis on recruiting high quality scientific and technical staff and developing national and international scientific linkages.

At the time of its establishment over 60 % of Irish exports were agricultural and the level of agricultural production had been relatively static for a considerable period. It set to help solve the practical problems facing Irish farmers at the time, to help them increase productivity and income.

Milestones in Development

Year foundedResearch centre
1959 Dairy Research Centre, Moorepark, Co. Cork
Animal Production, Grange, Co. Meath
1960 Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford transferred to the Agricultural Institute
Tillage Research in Oakpark, Co. Carlow
1962 Economics & Rural Welfare, HQ, Dublin
1963 Kinsealy Horticulture Centre, Co. Dublin
1972 Belclare Sheep Research, Co. Galway


In 1988, Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, was established as the national agency with overall responsibility for the provision of research, training and advisory services to the agriculture and food industry. It incorporated the training functions of the Agricultural Institute. The rationale for this was that considerable benefit could be derived from the co-ordination and integration of the research service with the training and advisory services.



The Agricultural Institute from the beginning gave a high priority to livestock research, reflecting its importance to the Irish economy. Virtually all aspects of a modern beef enterprise had their genesis in research findings from the National Beef Research Centre at Grange, Co.Meath.

A wide range of prototype beef production systems have been evaluated in terms of practicality, market suitability and biological, technical and economic efficiency. These systems have served as demonstration units for farmers as well as research resources for experiments.

Many aspects of calf management have been studied including calf house design, calf nutrition and the control and prevention of parasitic infections.

Developments in feeding have led to the widespread uptake of silage making technology, together with the strategic use of high levels of supplementary concentrates. Grange research has allowed greater precision in predicting the response of silage-fed growing and finishing cattle.

Other strong areas include the effect of farm production on carcass composition, cow reproduction and grassland management.


When the Agricultural Institute was founded the dairy industry was primitive by today's standards. Since then there has been unprecedented growth and development, paralleled by a dynamic and always relevant research programme at Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork

Research in production systems has lead to 'a Moorepark blueprint' for intensive

output of milk from pasture. Dairy herd profits have increased by 44 % due to the higher level of milk produced from grazed pasture.

Experiments on type of cow have shown that milk yields of 6,400 litres per cow can be achieved with a stocking rate of 2.75 cows per hectare, with 50 % to 60 % Holstein.

In 1961 infertility was responsible for half of all cows culled; heat detection was the single most important factor. Tail paint has proved to be the only useful heat detection aid. It is now used widely in commercial dairy herds.

Moorepark contributed to improving dairy hygiene through its involvement in devising various cleaning systems. Pioneering research has also taken place in the area of milking machines and milking systems.

Researchers at Moorepark designed, built and evaluated the tank that was to become the prototype for a large manufacturer supplying all dairying countries throughout the world.

Research work on milk quality resulted in up to 90 % of milk having a bacterial count of less than 100,000 in the late 1980's, which compares with the best in the world.

Most co-ops today are using milk testing equipment, which has been recommended, modified and calibrated at Moorepark.

Research at Moorepark developed a practical control programme to deal with mastitis. Research has contributed to a reduction in losses through cow lameness, as well as providing guidelines to reduce calf mortality levels.


Research made it possible to farm sheep at an intensive level.

The research was carried out at Creagh, Co.Mayo and Belclare, Co.Clare and integrated into a production system at a test farm at Blindwell, Co.Galway.

Genetic resources were identified and developed, which could be used to raise the number of lambs reared per ewe to the ram by 30%. Genetic studies on the relative importance of ovulation rate and embryo survival in determining litter size, and successful selection for ovulation rate and litter size, led to the development of the Belclare breed.

There were considerable developments in grassland utilisation including stocking rate, silage and fertiliser inputs. Research activity showed there were significant gains from grazing cattle and sheep together. Research on grass clover in the 1980's showed the value of clover swards for sheep-only grazing.

Other areas included parasitology, disease control, including roundworms and fluke and reproductive physiology incorporating out-of-season breeding and puberty, synchronisation and immunisation to increase ovulation rates.


Startling changes have occurred in the pig industry. Intensification, specialisation and efficiency have increased. Sow productivity has risen, with Ireland having one of the highest outputs per sow in the world (22 pigs per sow per year). The efficiency of feed utilisation has improved dramatically.

Research by the Agricultural Institute/Teagasc in Moorepark during the 1960's and 1970's made an enormous contribution to our understanding of sow nutrition. The importance of feeding in determining sow fertility has been established, with the emphasis on lifetime sow nutrition rather than one cycle or part of a cycle.

Also the interaction of pregnancy and lactation has been researched, with the studies from Moorepark on factors controlling appetite in lactating sow still among the most quoted in literature reviews.


Tillage farming has changed from a labour intensive occupation to a mechanised and sophisticated business enterprise. Developments have resulted from the combined efforts of the Agricultural Institute/Teagasc, industry and well-trained enthusiastic farmers in adopting new technology.

Research-based advances in the growing of sugar beet have been spectacular. Research carried out by the Agricultural Institute and the Irish Sugar Company in the 1960's succeeded in getting selective pre-emergence chemical weed control adopted for the first time. Dose rates and spraying techniques were established. Mechanical harvesting was also advanced during these years. Crop breeding developments, which climaxed with the monogerm seed, was the final link in the chain of events.

Research in winter cereals and spring barley had a major effect on maintaining grain out-put during a period when the area under tillage was reduced by 50%. Work in Oakpark on controlling the major root, stem, leaf and ear diseases has had a major impact. Research on the diseases', take-all and eyespot, has gained permanent international recognition.

In relation to potatoes, chemical weed control was developed in Oakpark in the early 1960's and this was adopted on virtually the entire crop within five years. The breeding programme has been very successful in producing varieties for the seed export trade and domestic market. Identification of the most effective chemicals and their use in spray programmes has been successful. Research on occurrence, behaviour and control of strains of blight, which developed resistance to some fungicides, has been of national and international significance.

Research on machinery has focused on larger machines, with greater output and reduced spray lift, which is now a very important topic in relation to human health and the protection of the environment.


Food research and development is now an equal partner in a consumer-driven agri-food programme as opposed to its earlier days on the periphery of a production-driven agricultural programme. This growth is illustrated by the increase in staff engaged in food research from 6 % of total research staff in 1961 to 43 % in 1998. About half of this increase occurred since 1994, driven by large EU funding.

The growing interest in food research reflects the buoyancy of the food industry. Irish food companies have emerged as global players.

In the 1960's the emphasis was on the volume of production. In the 1970's this was extended to include the quality of Irish produce.

Early investigations at a fundamental level by the Agricultural Institute led to successful industry applications. For example, work on meat biochemistry in the 1960's led to the 'tenderstretch' process in the 1970's and in the 1990's the widespread adoption of this technology by Irish beef processors.

In the 1980's research on vacuum packs was developed along with the retail beef pack, both important for exporting beef cuts.

Growing consumer demand for foods that are pure, wholesome and chemical free has driven food safety to the top of the research agenda. The opening of the research abattoir in 1978 at Dunsinea, Co. Meath and in 1987 the establishment of the National Food Centre (NFC) at Dunsinea created a one-stop-shop for food research, consultancy and training, making food safety and wholesomeness a core activity in research.

The NFC has established food quality systems that have enabled hundreds of companies to meet market specifications. It has been responsible for developing technologies to control the pathogen E-coli 0157 and for establishing a national purity database for use by Irish companies.

Smaller food sectors have also benefited with technology to increase the shelf life of mushrooms and to improve the performance of flours in pizza bases.


The Soil Survey in the 1960's provided an essential framework for explaining the role of soil type in production responses and understanding the regional variability in land productivity.

During the 1960's and 1970's significant advances were made in identifying the drainage problems and solutions for extensive areas of wetlands.

A major component of soil fertility research was devoted to a better understanding of the chemistry of our soils and later their phosphorus (P) and potash (K) releasing powers. This led to national lime and fertiliser recommendations, rotation theories and the identification of areas of the country with trace element deficiencies.

The grassland programme at Johnstown Castle provided the basis for establishing herbage production and stocking rate targets for specific areas.

With agriculture under environmental scrutiny Teagasc prepared codes of good practice for farming to ensure that agriculture would not cause pollution of soil, water and air. Highlights here include the evaluation and development of improved slurry spreading technologies, the development of a blueprint for environmentally compatible dairy farming, for hardwood farm forestry and the establishment of technical/economic basis for organic sheep/cattle systems.


The programmes in Kinsealy, Co. Dublin over the years have contributed significantly to providing technical requirements for progress.

New cultivation technologies and weed control programmes have been established.

There has been research on year-round production of many crops using module transplants. There have been developments in disease control strategies. Cultivars for Irish conditions have been identified.

In protected crops research into a wide range of greenhouse food and ornamental crops, especially tomatoes was performed. Biological control systems for major pests were introduced. This, along with disease-resistant varieties and better environmental controls, has resulted in a reduced usage of pesticide in crop production.

Kinsealy research paved the way for today's major success in the mushroom industry. The crop is now valued at €114 million and 85 % of its output is exported. The development of a production system using plastic bags and polythene tunnels, together with central composting, gave Ireland a significant advantage over its competitors.

The Kinsealy capillary bed system was devised to provide improved irrigation. Other work has led to specifications for peat physical properties for nursery stock.

Research pioneered the use of herbicides to eliminate the need for cultivation in apple trees, cane fruits and strawberries. The flavour of Irish strawberries is now superior to imported produce and significant import substitution has resulted.

In farm forestry research there have been many developments, mainly those of immediate interest to farmers, who are the major planters of broadleaf species.