Food Harvest 2020 outlines the potential future for Irish agriculture. It contains ambitious targets in relation to the dairy, beef, pig and sheep sectors. I have some reservations about what is happening and on how Irish farmers are to be facilitated to meet the targets to which I refer. A 50% increase in milk production and a 20% increase in beef production by 2020 will stretch the sector at a time when we have stated our intention to keep the fundamental principle of the family farm in place.
As Food Harvest 2020 gears up, we are witnessing the retrenchment of the Teagasc advisory service countrywide. The Teagasc office in Ennistymon in north County Clare has already been shut down and there is a proposal to close the office at Scariff in the east of the county. In addition, there is the embargo on the recruitment of agricultural advisers. The preferred option of Teagasc seems to be that of research and academic publication. It is difficult to see how the organisation can leave aside its research on behalf of farmers in order to facilitate the goals of Food Harvest 2020, particularly if it is intent on closing or running down its advisory network.
The Minister must carefully consider how we are to achieve the targets set down in Food Harvest 2020. I am strongly of the view that the role of Teagasc in respect of this process must be redefined from two perspectives. The first of these perspectives relates to the key role of the advisory service and office network, which are both allied to the continued education of Irish farmers. The second perspective relates to the future of research facilities relating to the dairy, beef, sheep and pig sectors. This model should not be the responsibility of Teagasc on its own, rather there should be a strategic partnership between it and farmers involved in the sectors.
There is no doubt that there is huge potential in Irish agriculture and that this potential will benefit the entire economy. It is vital, therefore, that we should ensure that none of this potential is lost through bad judgment or inactivity.