There are over 3,600 people waiting to attend Green Cert courses around the country. Many of them need to get their certificates finished before certain deadlines to qualify for young farmer top-up and National Reserve schemes, so there's enormous pressure on Teagasc, who have recruited extra staff to deal with the glut. They have now been able to increase annual enrolment from 500 to 1,500 students per year, but this is still not enough to meet demand from those approaching the cut-off point of 40 years of age.
The Green Cert is the one course young farmers must do. It is thrust on them by many factors. When it comes to signing over the land, having your Green Cert prevents a major tax bill. It is also now necessary for a number of schemes.
Many younger farmers never felt the need to get the piece of paper. I know I'm one. I actually did the course many moons ago but didn't finish out the book-keeping and I left my work experience placement a couple of weeks early. For a few years Teagasc advisors used to ring up and remind me, but eventually they stopped. I can understand the attitude of those who aren't bothered with going to a college to learn about something they've been doing everyday of their lives.
But the Green Cert is a good course and no matter how much you think you know, there's always something to learn. The Green Cert is also a great way of meeting other young farmers, making contacts and striking up friendships that might last a lifetime.
During the boom there was work a-plenty with good pay. Many young people had off-farm jobs in building and related industries. They probably never thought they'd have to rely on farming. Then the bust happened and we all know the rest.
It is a great thing for farming that so many young people have returned home to make a go of it in recent years. We still have a deficit in terms of succession and so many older farmers still do not know who, if anybody, will take over from them when the time comes.
For this reason it is imperative that everything is done to make it easier and more rewarding for younger people to go farming. Many of them have had a taste of well-paid off-farm work. They know that farming is a life of hardship and hard slogs with little certainty of making any money out of it. There's no point in making it harder for them than it will be anyhow.
Schemes requiring the Green Cert, like the the Young Farmer Top-up and National Reserve need to have their deadlines extended, to allow those waiting for Green Cert course placements to get them done. These schemes are the main reason there is such a demand for Green Cert places at present. In a couple of years the glut will have abated, so a little flexibility by those running these schemes is needed.
If the intended purpose is to encourage young farmers to stay in the profession, officials must keep their expectations realistic and make it possible for all those who wish to stay in farming to do so.