CLARE Fine Gael TD Joe Carey is leading a campaign to change a Department of Agriculture regulation that excludes thousands of part-time farmers from a €100 million knowledge transfer programme.

Funded by the Irish taxpayer and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, knowledge transfer groups are being implemented for 27,000 farmers across the beef, sheep, dairy, tillage, equine and poultry sectors.

A major impediment to part-time farmers participating in the scheme was highlighted by Scariff-based agricultural consultant Denis Tuohy when he applied to the Department of Agriculture last July for permission to host a knowledge transfer event on the control and management of rushes.

To facilitate some of the hundreds of part-time farmers in Care and to maximise attendance, he scheduled the event for a Saturday.

However, he was told by the Department’s Innovation Unit that they wouldn’t approve the application because national events are not permitted on weekends or public holidays under the terms and conditions of the Knowledge Transfer Programme.

Because a large number of machinery companies, seed suppliers and pesticide firms had already confirmed their attendance, Mr Tuohy said he intended to go ahead with the event as planned. He criticised the Department’s ban on weekend events which, he said, was a serious disadvantage to part time farmers who would benefit most from advice on the control of rushes.

The issue has now been taken up by Deputy Carey who said that Mr Tuohy was an approved facilitator in the knowledge transfer programme and it was odd that such a worthy event could not be held at the weekend.

“The Department maintains that events cannot be held at weekends for what they describe as ‘control, verification and inspection purposes’. However, over the past number of years, education initiatives and knowledge transfer sessions had been provided for part time farmers at times outside the Monday to Friday office hours schedule,” Deputy Carey explained.

“The three year programme forms part of an integrated package of supports to facilitate farmers in addressing sustainability, productivity and competitiveness challenges.  The ultimate aim is to help farmers pursue best practice and help protect and improve farmer’s incomes.

“However, if the Department cannot allow any events at the weekend because they need to verify that they actually take place, then it’s hardly an example of competitiveness and best practice,” he declared.

“Another significant benefit of the scheme is in the social interaction for a participant of the scheme, aiming to counteract rural isolation and encourage interaction on an on-going basis.

“The programme is intended to underpin continued growth and competitiveness in the agri-food sector. They are designed to ensure the farmer and advisor engage in one-to-one discussion on subjects such as controlling input costs, environmental sustainability, breeding and herd health.

“I will ask Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to review the terms and conditions of the scheme to ensure that this apparent discrimination against part time farmers is ended,” Deputy Carey concluded.