B+LNZ funding at risk in AgResearch changes

12/11/2013

Most of the publicity and lobbying over AgResearch’s proposal to move most of its staff from Invermay to Lincoln has been directed at the government because it’s a crown entity.

However, it has an independent board and around half its funding comes from the industry and one of those funders is now raising concerns:

If there are not the skills to conduct key research AgResearch may lose beef and lamb industry funding, Beef + Lamb New Zealand chairman Mike Peterson says.

B+LNZ had been up front all the way over proposals to downsize AgResearch’s Invermay campus near Dunedin under the Crown research institute’s Future Footprint (FFP) plan, Petersen said.

However, the reality was if the skills were lacking there would be nothing to fund and that would put future research funding at risk.

“It’s the reality. If there are no researchers to do the work we need done then there will be nothing to fund (at AgResearch),” Petersen said. . .

Most staff at Invermay aren’t just saying they don’t want to move to Lincoln, they’re saying they won’t move.

B+LNZ spent $5 million annually funding research at AgResearch and that was boosted a further $20m by partnership funding, including the Government.

“We (B+LNZ) generate $25m worth of research activity each year,” Petersen said.

To continue to do that, access to key skills remained crucial.

“But we are not going to use that as a stick on AgResearch over where and how it locates staff.

“But if we can’t get access to key capability then one option is the funding will not be available.”

Losing key staff would have a huge impact on AgResearch capability.

. . . He acknowledged there was pressure from southern farmers for B+LNZ to oppose AgResearch’s FFP.

“I am aware that there are farmers, particularly down south, that think we should be up in arms but at the end of the day this is an AgResearch board decision and we have been given the assurances we have been looking for at this stage,” he said.

Farmer concerns were being taken seriously and B+LNZ would look into remits issued by the Southern South Island and Central South Island sheep councils opposing the shift of staff from Invermay to Lincoln.

Where the scientists were located was not necessarily the issue for B+LNZ, Petersen said.

“Our issue is will the (key skilled) scientists in fact be there to do our research?

“It could be that scientists decide not to move and then AgResearch might then decide to retain them at Invermay. Invermay, or Lincoln, is not the big deal for us – it’s the access to the capability.”

The  concern for B+LNZ isn’t about the location, it’s about capability and there are serious questions about whether AgResearch would retain that if AgResearch goes ahead with its plan to gut Invermay.


What went wrong at AgResearch?

29/08/2013

AgResearch isn’t very popular in the south following the announcement of its proposal to relocate most of its activities from Invermay to Lincoln.

It won’t be very popular with Fonterra, MPI, government or anyone else caught up with the fallout from the botulism scare now it’s been found it was responsible for the test which showed the possible botulism contamination in a batch of Fonterra’s whey protein concentrate.

Subsequent tests – all 195 of them – have contradicted that and shown that the WPC was safe.

AgResearch has issued a media release saying:

A spokesperson for AgResearch said: “We have today received correspondence from Fonterra in relation to testing carried out by AgResearch for Fonterra.

“Under the terms of our contract with Fonterra, we are bound by a confidentiality agreement and cannot discuss specific details.

“However, we have reviewed our work and we are confident in the work that our experts carried out and reported to Fonterra.

“Both the Government and Fonterra are conducting investigations into the issues and we are involved in these inquiries.

“We have also sought to discuss the concerns raised today directly with Fonterra and we are engaged with MPI regarding these developments.”

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said while there is a sense of shared relief that the product was not contaminated, Fonterra had done the right thing by initiating a precautionary recall.

“Food safety remains our number one priority.

“The original results from AgResearch indicated the presence of toxin-producing Clostridium botulinum in the affected whey protein concentrate and we could therefore not take any chances,” he said.

Fonterra originally commissioned independent testing from Crown Research Institute, AgResearch, as one of only two research facilities in New Zealand capable of carrying out testing for Clostridium botulinum.

“On the basis of the results we received from the AgResearch tests, we had no choice but to alert regulators, and announce a global precautionary recall with our customers.

“We have just learned of the further and definitive test results. While we share a sense of relief about them, this in no way lessens our commitment to undertaking a thorough review into what happened, and to learn from this experience.”

Mr Spierings acknowledged there had been confusion and anxiety arising from the complexity of the precautionary recall and apologised for it.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult for parents in a number of countries, as well as for our customers, our farmers, and our staff.
“For me, as Fonterra’s CEO and as a father of three children, I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment. Given the same circumstances, and with food safety always front of mind, I would do the same again.

“Food safety and quality must always remain our top priority. I have created a new role of Group Director, Food Safety and Quality that reports directly to me.  Fonterra already has world-class food safety systems, and we’ll make sure that our dedication to food safety is further embedded in everything we do.

“The news today does not affect the various reviews and inquiries underway. We are committed to learning from, and sharing, any findings about how we can improve. We will do this in an open and transparent way,” Mr Spierings said.

There will be lessons for AgResearch too.


Rural round-up

25/08/2013

Rabo back US dairy as Fonterra reveals milk hitch – Agrimoney:

Rabobank highlighted the potential for the US to grow dairy exports as New Zealand-based Fonterra. investigating the botulism scare which prompted product recalls, revealed a milk powder withdrawal.

Tim Hunt, US-based global dairy strategist at Rabobank, said that the US “could emerge as a significant competitor” in dairy exports, thanks to a slowdown in domestic demand at a time of elevated international prices.

Already prices of some US dairy exports are showing significant growth, with milk powder exports rising from some 300,000 tonnes in 2007 to 500,000 tonnes last year, and cheese shipments rising from 100,000 to 250,000 tonnes over the same period. . .

Kiwi-run Chinese dairy farm far cry from home

As Fonterra works to rebuild its reputation in China, it will face competition from other dairy companies trying to grow their share of the market.

One is popular brand Wondermilk, which is produced by a Taiwanese-American company, but the farm manager is a Kiwi.

An hour’s drive northeast of Beijing, past scenes of dramatic urban development, is a small piece of modern agricultural China. And New Zealander Berwick Settle leads us to “Red Star”, the newest of three facilities he manages for Hua Xia Dairy Farm. . .

Restructure losses may be huge – Annette Scott:

The loss of experience and knowledge to the agricultural industry could be huge under the proposed AgResearch restructure, agribusiness professor Jacqueline Rowarth says.

AgResearch announced this month 180 jobs at Ruakura and 85 from AgResearch’s Invermay site near Dunedin would be lost to its Lincoln campus in a $100 million proposal to create large campuses at Grasslands, in Palmerston North, and at Lincoln.

“History tells us globally that only 10% (of scientists) will go (to the new site) and that’s a huge loss of capability,” Rowarth said.

“When Wallaceville in Upper Hutt and Hurley Pasture Research Centre in the UK closed, 90% of people, for a variety of reasons, did not relocate. . .

Biofuels plants key to UK wheat price outlook – Agrimoney:

Success in efforts to bring two major biofuel plants onstream may have an undue impact on UK wheat values, in determining the level of supplies needed to be priced to compete on export markets.

Wheat futures for November touched £151.00 a tonne in London last week, the lowest for a spot contract in 19 months, in a slump attributed to growing harvest hopes leaving the country with hefty supplies to sell abroad.

Harvest estimates, some of which fell below 11.5m tonnes after a cold spring followed an unusually wet autumn and winter, have risen substantially after early harvest results showed far better yields than had been expected. . .

Forests to help create fresh air:

A Hawke’s Bay couple have just launched a Fresh Air Forests service to let people like travellers, businesses and landowners measure and counteract the effects of transport, travel and accommodation.

People taking part buy trees to create native forests.

Fresh Air Forests has growing sites at Lake Waikopiro and on Mount Kahuranaki on retired and protected land in Hawke’s Bay for generations ahead to enjoy.

“We are serious about making a difference, now and in the future so the idea of pledging trees to create a native forest made a lot of sense,” director Colin Pirie, who runs the venture with wife Wendy, said. . .

Their website is www.freshairforests.co.nz.

Farm tree planting together is fun – Pasture to Profit:
Planting farm trees is best when you plant with community friends. I had a great day tree planting in a wetland area on farm with 30 new friends. It was really fun! So much fun that I will continue to invite the community rather than using contractors.
 
The environment and protecting the quality of our rivers & streams is a community responsibility. Farms need to engage their local communities in helping to plant trees,  Trees that are aesthetically beautiful, trees that are ECO-Sourced, trees for bees, trees that reduce N leaching. . .

Research centre funded but research misses out

15/07/2008

The mullit-million dollar animal reproduction facility at Invermay isn’t even open yet and already there are questions over it’s long-term future because its application for $18m of public science funding failed.

AgResearch chief executive Dr Andy West said the Government was sending mixed messages. On the one hand, it had approved $17 million for the new animal reproduction and genetics building at the North Taieri Invermay campus, but the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) yesterday declined to fund the science.

The centre would open in December and its future was secure for the next three years.

But unless AgResearch was able to find more than $3.5 million a year after that, Dr West said he would have to look overseas for animal reproduction contracts”Overall, it’s not particularly good news for Invermay,” he said.

It does seem more than a little wasteful to build a research centre then not fund the research.

The FRST manager of investment strategy, Richard Templer, said in a statement AgResearch’s position was affected by “wider issues in the meat and wool sector”.

Of the 96 contested contracts awarded, AgResearch secured 14, worth a total of $67 million, including $7.5 million over three years for animal reproduction.

“While this might not have been all the funding AgResearch sought for it, it is the nature of a contestable process that not all proposals will get all the funding sought.”

When funds are limited there has to be an application process and not all applicactions will succeed. But Scientists often complain they spend more time and energy applying for funding than actually doing research.

Invermay’s new $17 million complex will house 49 people in a joint AgResearch-University of Otago genetics and animal reproduction team.

Nine of those relocated south from the Wallaceville campus, near Wellington.

Dr West said AgResearch had 45% of its contracts up for renewal in FRST’s latest round, but had funding cut by $18 million, a decision he accepted as “part of life”.

But, he said, there were mixed messages from the Government, which strengthened his view science funding was flawed.

“There is something seriously wrong with science funding when you can get sign-off from the Government for $17 million in funding to construct a new building, then the Government questions whether reproduction research is a priority.”

AgResearch has also had a cut to its textiles research, affecting a $21 million investment in a Lincoln textiles company, Canesis.

The loss of $1 million a year meant AgResearch would now look overseas for wool research contracts in a bid to retain staff, effectively helping competing wool producers.

“There is only one future for textiles and that is we have to look for work from overseas industry or overseas governments. Either that or we make everyone redundant and close it down.”

Canesis was about to launch eight new woollen fabrics at New Zealand Fashion Week, including a lightweight, stab-resistant material, another that was heat resistant, and an environmentally friendly outdoor jacket fabric.

They sound like exactly the sort of thing we should be getting in to.

Dr West said the loss of funding raised serious concerns for the sheep industry, which relied on viable lamb and wool industries to compete with dairying.

“Without wool, we can’t make the numbers work for sheep to compete with dairying on our flat land.”

Farmers have been blaming low returns on the price they’re paid for meat, but prices for wool and pelts have also been depressed which makes dairying more attractive by comparison.

Dr West hoped to secure transitional funding so scientists could switch research projects. But he warned it could be hard to retain scientists, especially with AgResearch’s Irish equivalent actively recruiting 60 pastoral scientists.

Science, Research and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson said FRST was independent of the Government and he had no influence on its funding decisions.

FRST had 17% more money to allocate this year, including a large increase in the primary sector, and it was still to announce contested and transitional funding.

Has everyone forgotten the knowledge economy or isn’t agriculture part of it?


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