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.