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Meeting the Educational Needs of 21st Century Farming

Meeting the Educational Needs of 21st Century Farming

The longstanding tradition of farming in Ireland continues to contribute a major source of economic activity for the country and is still the focus of rural Ireland. The farming tradition is steadfast, but the farming methods are changing and adapting to meet the needs of the modern technological age and labour market requirements.

Smart technology has taken urban centres by storm and it is now encroaching on rural Ireland with the rapid advancements of digital and biotechnologies leading to smart farming technologies. No longer a vision of the future, smart farms are now in operation in Ireland and farming education programmes are advancing to support this leap in farming practice.

Explore the agriculture sector in Ireland here

Changes to Farming Education

The Teagasc Education Vision Report (2018) is a response to the changes that are happening in the farming sector both globally and nationally. The report provides details on current and likely future developments in farming. It lays out strategies for addressing the challenges to farming by setting specific goals that need both immediate and long-term focus.  Some of the changes to the education for farmers will see greater gender balance, development of knowledge, skills and competence, including the development of entrepreneurial and multidisciplinary skills.

There has been a noticeable shift in farming education in the past 30 years. Traditionally farmers learnt their skills through practical experience on farms; skills and learning was passed down through generations. More recently farmers have invested in more formal education. As the graph below shows, in 1990 90% of farmers relied solely on practical training, 20 years later this figure declined to 50%. By 2013 approx 25% of farmers had basic or full agricultural training, an increase of approx. 10% on figures for 1990.

The shift towards more formal education has gradually increased with significant growth since 2010. According to the Teagasc study, The Economic Returns to Formal Agricultural Education (Teagasc, 2014) there is a correlation between farm size and formal agricultural education participation. The average farm size of farmers with no formal agricultural education was about 30 hectares, increasing to about 50 hectares where farmers had a formal agricultural education. Suggesting that as farms are increasing in size, farmers are choosing to take on more formal training.

Formal farming education is promoted by the Food Wise 2025 Vision (DAFM, 2015). This ten year vision highlights the need for the agri-food sector to attract ‘ambitious, educated and motivated people’. Food Wise 2025 and other reports emphasise the critical importance of education in developing 21st century workforce skillsets.

Defining Farming Roles

The investment in formal education leads to specialisation and more clearly defined farming roles. The Teagasc Education Vision Report (2018) identifies the land sector occupation roles into three general categories. 

  • Operative: carry out defined duties adequately and competently
  • Technician: lead and supervise key enterprise (e.g. dairy herd) activities
  • Manager: determine and lead more complex management and business activities

The following qualifications are recommended for the future:

  • Farm Operative: a QQI Level 5 Certificate in Agriculture (or equivalent), facilitating future education and career progression. At a minimum, operatives should receive industry recognised training that is customised to their role.
  • Farm Technician: a QQI Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Agriculture (or equivalent), facilitating future education and career progression.
  • Farm Manager: Level 7 Degree in Farm Management through an apprenticeship route or equivalent.

Explore courses in the agriculture and farming sector here


A Need for Education

21st century farming will require more advanced skillsets to enable farmers to meet fundamental changes occurring at many levels. Key areas include entrepreneurship, transversal (personal), sustainable farming and digital technology skillsets.

An entrepreneurial mindset is needed to stimulate farmers and land-based businesses to fully exploit the opportunities that their resources offer. Skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and communication have been identified as crucial future skills in most industries. The land sector will be no exception.

Agricultural education and continuous professional development have a crucial role in enabling future farmers to keep pace with technological and policy change. The challenge for Teagasc education is to provide the education pathways and curriculum content that the land sector will require.

Learning and Preparing for the Future

Upskilling now will help farmers prepare for rapid changes that are expected as advances are made in digital and biotechnologies. According to the Teagasc Technology Foresight 2035 Report (Teagasc, 2016) the land sector and the wider agri-food sector ‘is on the verge of a revolution in the application of powerful new technologies’.

Future farmers will operate in an age where smart farming technologies have the potential to transform farming. The imperative for sustainable, secure but productive farming systems will drive the advancement of a circular bioeconomy that maximises the value, renewal and regeneration of products and finite resources.

This transformation will necessitate harnessing existing and new technologies and knowledge to enhance farming practice in accordance with a changing farming landscape.

For more information on farming and farming education read our agriculture sector expert pages provided by Teagasc, click here.

The CareersPortal Team