'Why take Sheep and Deer industry research away from the areas of maximum production?'

By Allan Barber

A group of southern sheep breeders and sheep and deer farmers is strongly lobbying the government to attend a meeting in Gore to be held next Wednesday 12th March.

The meeting, to be chaired by past chairman of Beef + Lamb NZ Jeff Grant, will be the first time AgResearch has fronted up to breeders and farmers to talk to them about the planned transfer of research scientists from Invermay to Lincoln.

The purpose of the meeting with AgResearch Board and Management is to hear them outline the proposed shift to Lincoln and the residual science to be retained at Invermay, and for AgResearch to hear the views of their stakeholders.

According to the Notice of Meeting “There has been no consultation with farmer clients regarding AgResearch's Future Footprint Proposal (FFP). We disagree with Beef & Lamb and Federated Farmers’ apparent support for the proposals.”

The meeting will seek an explanation to clarify why AgResearch want to spend $100 million creating a hub at Lincoln despite spending more than $17 million at Invermay only 5 years ago.

The organising group makes some compelling points which they are keen to have AgResearch take into account before the decision is final. These points are:

- The importance of agricultural and animal research to drive the economy of New Zealand.

- The combined benefit of the genetics work at Invermay and Otago University.

- The research and trialling of environmental models for the direct benefit of regional councils and to farming as increased intensification is placing pressure on soils and water quality.

- That Invermay in Otago and Lincoln in Canterbury have different climates and soils; therefore if research is to be useful and applied, it seems logical to make it as accurate and fit for purpose as possible.

- That a significant numbers of staff will not relocate to Lincoln causing a loss of intellectual horsepower.

- Recently released reviews of the business case of the relocation proposal, indicate no compelling case to proceed as planned. In fact most of AgResearch staff agree with this conclusion.

- That Invermay has cultivated strong regional support for the uptake of science and collaborates with many Otago and Southland organisations for research, open days, farmer visits and frequent contact directly by farmers with scientists.

In an accompanying note to the Meeting Notice organizer Hugh Gardyne makes several other pertinent points:

“There are multiple reasons to retain and grow science at Invermay that we will debate at the meeting, one being the relationship currently with Otago University. If it is Sheep and Deer industry research, why then take it away from those areas of maximum production?"

“If Government expects to achieve growth targets in all areas of the economy and regional development, then investment and commitment to research and science is a no-brainer."

In question is the whole funding model of agricultural science and research in NZ and the dissemination of it, currently stifled by proprietary partnerships such as PGPs, conflicts of interest and perceived censorship by AgResearch of its staff.”

It promises to be an interesting meeting which I hope the government chooses to be represented at, because the manner in which AgResearch seems to have insisted on its pre-determined FFP outcome after a cursory review.

Scientists at Invermay and farmers from Otago and Southland deserve to be heard and to receive a persuasive presentation to justify the transfer of scientific research and resource to Lincoln.

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Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country where he runs a boutique B&B with his wife. You can contact him by email at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz or read his blog here ». This article first appeared at FW Plus and is used here with permission.

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