Farmers angry with AgResearch

AgResearch Chief Executive Dr Tom Richardson said last week’s meeting with farmers in Gore was constructive over plans to move scientists from Invermay to Lincoln was constructive.

The meeting was initiated by the Southern Texel Breeders and hosted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
Eighty seven people attended the meeting, of which about 50 were farmers.

“It was good to be able to speak to concerned farmers directly about our plans to deliver them better science and higher returns. It was a good wide-ranging discussion, and wasn’t solely focused on our reinvestment plans for AgResearch campuses,” says Dr Richardson.

“There was also discussion on government investment in science, industry support for science and how to take research forward.

“Regards our campus reinvestment plans, we understand the concerns of Southland and Otago farmers, and it was an opportunity to reinforce the fact we are not closing Invermay – in fact we’d like to increase the numbers of staff there who are dealing with on farm and regional environment issues.”

AgResearch’s Future Footprint plan will position the organisation for the long-term to deliver better science, more effectively, to New Zealand farmers, the pastoral sector and the New Zealand economy.

The Southern Texel Breeders passed a motion requesting an independent review of the plan, which will involve the co-location of scientists into science innovation hubs, allowing for a more effective collaborative approach to tackle national science ‘big issues’.

Dr Richardson says the plan will see $100 million reinvested to create modern facilities that are functional, adaptable and fit for modern science.

“Future Footprint will see us maximising the use of our facilities and specialist infrastructure to achieve better returns for AgResearch, our clients and the pastoral sector,” says Dr Richardson.

“We remain committed to find the best solution to continue to deliver the science all New Zealand farmers rely on to stay ahead of their international counterparts.”

Farmers aren’t convinced and they’re angry.

They pay levies which provide a good part of AgResearch’s funds and they want scientists to stay based where the bulk of sheep and beef farming takes place – in Otago and Southland.

Immigration Minister and Dunedin-based MP Michael Woodhouse isn’t convinced AgResearch has yet made its case for shifting scientists from Invermay to Lincoln.

As the debate about the merits of an AgResearch hub being established at Lincoln, Mr Woodhouse confirmed to the Otago Daily Times yesterday he had visited Invermay and talked to the staff.

There had been a fear that leaving just 20 scientists at Invermay to deal with farming services and animal services was a ”death spiral” number. But Mr Woodhouse had been ”assured” by AgResearch 20 was the absolute minimum number of scientists and it was hoped to lift the number to 50 scientists at Invermay in the future.

”We need to test that plan and make sure it is the right thing to do for New Zealand Inc and New Zealand agriculture. Can we be confident moving 50 scientists out of 80 from Invermay is better than moving the 30 from Christchurch to Invermay? I am not convinced AgResearch has met the test set them by Minister [Steven] Joyce.” . . .

The plan hasn’t met the farmers’ test.

Dr Andrew West tried to merge AgResearch and Lincoln when he headed AgResearch and failed. Farmers think he’s trying to achieve the same thing by another route now he’s vice chancellor of the university.

They wonder if the plan has more to do with shoring up Lincoln than what’s best for the industry.

AgResearch gets a lot of their money and they are worried that much-needed research will suffer from the loss of institutional knowledge and distance from the main concentration of sheep and beef production.

Whether or not the move goes ahead, one option for any spare buildings no-one has mentioned is as the headquarters for the Otago Regional Council.

The ORC has been looking for a new home and had expensive plans for one in the city. That was torpedoed but they still need a bigger base.

Invermay, with or without the current AgResearch staff, could be an option.

4 Responses to Farmers angry with AgResearch

  1. Dave Kennedy says:

    Given the importance of R&D, especially when it relates to our largest industries, what we really need is greater investment. New Zealand spends around half of what other OECD countries spend on research as a % of our GDP, if we increased the budget in this area perhaps we could retain the scientists at Invermay.

  2. Mr E says:

    I am not happy Ele. Not happy at all.
    I recognise that AgResearch is a company, and has business objectives so Ill explain my view.

    Lets look at the history of other South island centres.

    Woodlands – One onsite Research Associate (Not scientist). Once many – at its peak 13 staff. Not its main purpose appears to be as a commercial farm.

    Winchmore – No scientists – The last left around 2005. Now its main purpose appears to be as a commercial farm.

    A farm in Central Otago has been closed – I forget when.

    THERE HAS BEEN A SYSTEMATIC DISINVESTMENT IN THE REGIONS.

    Then we get this as part of a submission to the Regional Plan 2013

    Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm
    Objective WOODLANDS.1
    Investment in the strategic regionally important Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm is recognised, provided for and protected.

    Policy WOODLANDS.1
    The Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm must be recognised for the important benefits it contributes to the community and economy.

    Policy WOODLANDS.2
    The Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm must retain opportunities for continued use and expansion.

    Policy WOODLANDS.3
    Subdivision, use and development must not compromise the ongoing efficiency of the Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm.
    Explanation: The Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm is locally and regionally significant, and an integral part of the agricultural sector prevalent in the district.
    Recognition of, and protection for, the continued operation of the Woodlands Agricultural Research Farm is necessary

    It strikes me AgResearch does not know when regional investment is important and when it isn’t. It appears as though there is a greater agenda and they don’t want to admit it.

    We know the Lincoln Agresearch Campus is falling down. They usher you through the back door because the front is not structurally safe.

    A new campus is going to be built. It would be hard to justify an expensive new campus without more staff from Invermay.

    These things will not be admitted because no body will say buildings are more important than peoples lives.

    It makes me unhappy.

  3. Gravedodger says:

    I wonder Mr E if your legitimate concerns are not a tad over egged.

    With so many innovative and scientifically trained farmers out there clearly supportive of involvement, is it necessary to have very expensive commercial land based operations in crown, institution based ownership.
    How hard for scientist/s to take their research to functioning farms for analysis and furtherance.

    Lincoln College is well placed for opportunities for such activities that might have difficulty finding such commercial sponsorship with the considerable acreage of land available adjacent to the University. Likewise Massey

    With the considerable land resources of Massey and Lincoln Universities, Invermay and such locations could seem a rather expensive luxury to taxpayers already contributing considerable monies to the occupants of Ivory towers.

  4. Mr E says:

    Sorry GD. Left a great long explanation to your question – but it never loaded and is now gone.

    In brief –
    Onfarm trials often lack the following

    Strict environmental controls
    Sometimes scale for replication – particularly systems trials.
    Infrastructure
    Historical controls
    Resources
    Oversight – errors occur where expertise is lacking challenging integrity
    Controls for animal ethics requirements.

    That is not to say onfarm trials don’t work. Just they don’t work for all research. They are better at displaying what is already known by pure science.

    Centralising science has been a regular excuse for closing facilities. But in my opinion the gains are to way little and the costs way too high.

    I the past the interpretation by some was profits before people. Now I think it is facilities before people. In this case a shiny new palace and nice brass plaque.

    There are alternatives to a systematic disinvestment in the reqions.

    I think AgResearch needs to change its marketing strategy. Invest in marketing personal and align them with science teams. Imagine someone, representing the likes of Tom Fraser turning up on your door step. Saying to you ‘there a Banks Peninsular science meeting on Friday night, we’d like you to Join.’ Your now surrounded with the likes of the Craws and the Shadbolts and you are being asked “What science questions do you have, and how can we partner to solve them”. Alastair and Mark pipe up – We need grass grub control and think ‘grubout’ could work for us. Together with Agr you approach Cropmark seeds to ask for funding for field trials. Agr gets private funding for developing the next generation of seed. You farmers get free seed for replicated plots.

    Science is created – Agr develops it’s business.

    This maybe a bit of a stretch or a journey I am taking you on, but in my opinion industry needs to step up and begin to fund research. I think they are ready, they just need the right approach.

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