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Minister Creed's address at Teagasc Student of the Year Awards, 17 April 2018

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at Presentation of Teagasc Student of the Year Awards 2017 - Merrion Hotel Tuesday 17 April 2018

Address by Mr Michael Creed TD

I am very pleased to be here today at Teagasc’s invitation for this very important event in the agricultural calendar, the presentation of the Teagasc Student of the Year Awards sponsored by FBD. I want to congratulate all of the finalists here today. You have worked extremely hard to complete your training with Teagasc and to be selected as a Student of the Year finalist.  Well done to you all - it is a proud day for you and your families.

Teagasc Education Role

I am a strong supporter of the value of agricultural education. As the dominant provider of formal young farmer education and training; Teagasc has a unique role to play in equipping future generations of Irish farm families to develop the key knowledge and competencies necessary in modern farming. 

Teagasc’s education and training role extends well beyond farming itself.  It also has a key role in educating and up-skilling entrants to other areas of the land based sector including horticulture, forestry and equine and for the associated service and processing sectors of the wider agri-food sector. Teagasc’s efforts ensure that students learn in a practical and supportive environment.

I also welcome the strong partnership Teagasc has developed with the higher education sector, with Teagasc playing a key role in enabling the provision of higher agricultural education delivery nationally.

Positive Contribution of Host Farmers to Teagasc Education

Teagasc’s extensive national network of host farms/units provides very real practical learning experiences for students. Currently there are almost 1,500 host farmers/growers registered with Teagasc nationally. Increasingly students are offered the opportunity to complete their on farm placement overseas. These hosts are to be congratulated on their hugely important contribution to student’s practical learning experiences.

Demand for Teagasc Adult Green Cert Programmes

My Department is particularly aware of the very exceptional level of demand for the Teagasc adult Green Cert programmes in recent years. I note that participation levels across Teagasc further education and Teagasc linked education programmes exceed 7,000 in 2017 – the highest recorded participation   level. This is a reflection of exceptional level of enrolment in Teagasc Adult Green Cert programmes in recent years.

Training the next generation of farmers

The national vision for the agri-food sector – Food Wise 2025 identifies human capital as one of the core pillars necessary to underpin a vibrant agri-food sector in the years ahead. There is a need for new blood in the farming sector. Currently less than 6% of farm holders are under 35 years of age with more than half being over 55 years. 

Teagasc has a vital role to play in educating and up-skilling the next generation of farmers. I welcome the findings of a major Teagasc research study on the economic returns to formal agricultural education, which concluded that farmers who have a formal agricultural education consistently have higher farm incomes and better farm outcomes in terms of outputs and farming intensity.

There are opportunities for greater land mobility in the decades ahead that will facilitate new energetic entrants to the land sector. The recent EU paper, The Future of Food and Farming also identifiesthe need to attract young people into the land sector as a primary objective for the future.

Teagasc Education Strategic Vision

I also welcome the “Teagasc Education Strategic Vision” study that involved extensive stakeholder participation in regard to future education and competency needs of the land based sector.  It is appropriate that Teagasc and the wider industry take stock of the longer term education needs of the land based sector. Core aspects of agricultural production are undergoing fundamental shifts such as generating new technologies and new knowledge requirements. I look forward to the outcome of the Teagasc Education Vision project, which I understand is due shortly.

Agriculture is an important part of local economies supporting thousands of jobs in farming, dairying, food and indirectly in the wider industry.

The sector is well placed to capitalise on opportunities to develop new markets for quality food and drink products. Yesterday, for example, I announced the opening of the Chinese beef market to exports from Ireland. The opening of this key market presents an excellent opportunity for the Irish beef sector, from farmers through to processors, in line with the market development theme of our Food Wise strategy.  Opening and developing new markets is also a key part of our response to the uncertainties arising from Brexit.

Of course, Brexit will bring very substantial challenges across the farming and food sectors in the years ahead. These challenges highlight the ever increasing need for an educated skilled farming workforce if we are to farm competitively and sustainably in the future. 

Teagasc Student of the Year 2017 Award

The annual Teagasc Student of the Year Award is an opportunity to showcase the talent of the modern faming workforce.  I want to acknowledge the role of FBD in sponsoring this award for more than 30 years.

The 15 graduates we are honouring today have been chosen from all of the “Level 6 graduates who graduated from Teagasc fulltime or part time agricultural programmes in 2017. The panel of judges have informed me that standard was particularly high this year with candidates showing great initiative and diversification in their farming activities.  Any of the candidates would be a worthy winner I gather.  

I welcome the Teagasc Students of the Year 2017 finalists here today (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER I STRESS):

  1. Debbie Sunderland, Co Wexford
  2. David Lowe, Co Tipperary
  3. Conor Coakley, Co Cork
  4. Terence Cronin, Co Cork
  5. Kevin Byrne, Co Leitrim
  6. Damien McClearn, Co Galway
  7. Jason Mullin, Co Galway
  8. Brian Kelly, Co Clare
  9. Tommie McLaughlin, Co Donegal
  10. Darren Walsh, Co Mayo
  11. Gavin Canning, Co Mayo
  12. Hugh Massey, Co Limerick
  13. Gavin Brady, Co Cavan
  14. Bryan Lanigan, Co Kilkenny
  15. Barry Brady, Co Roscommon

I would like to congratulate you on your magnificent achievement.  You are a credit to yourselves, your parents and to the Teagasc staff who have guided you through your education.  I wish you well in your future careers.  I firmly believe that people of your calibre will make an important contribution to the future of the country’s biggest indigenous industry.