AgResearch’s ‘Future Footprint’

Tom Richardson, Chief ExecutiveAgResearch’s plans for the Future Footprint of the Crown Research Institute (CRI) have received qualified support from meat industry partners. While welcoming the new approach for research and development, they will be working closely with the research organisation to ensure staff and capabilities for meat and farm systems science are not lost, especially from the Invermay team.

AgResearch’s Future Footprint plan will see $100 million invested in its campus infrastructure. Chief executive Dr Tom Richardson says addresses needs to modernise its aging facilities and align its people and infrastructure with its strategy.

After staff consultation, the plans were announced last Thursday. These involve potentially relocating up to 250 roles, but it is stressed that no moves are scheduled before 2016 and all four campuses at Ruakura in Hamilton, Grasslands (Palmerston North), Lincoln and Invermay (Dunedin) will be retained.

AgResearch is now continuing discussion of its plans with external stakeholders – including those from the meat industry – like Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ), Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) and ANZCO Foods – to explain the thinking behind the changes and ensuring that the CRI understands and addresses any concerns they have, says Richardson, adding that plans are expected to evolve as new opportunities present themselves,says Dr Richardson.

“We have considerable support for our reinvestment from many of our primary sector partners, who can see the impact it will have on our ability to collaborate with them and create environments that will help us to attract and retain great staff,” he says.

“Our overall principle of having a large campus within each of the agriculture innovation hubs at Palmerston North and Lincoln and having our Ruakura and Invermay campuses focusing on regional environmental and farm systems needs remains central to our thinking.”

“We believe these changes will help us to better deliver the science needed to contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth,” he says.

He maintains the co-location of skills from AgResearch with those of its partners in universities, other CRI’s and industry will provide real benefits for New Zealand agriculture.

“It’s an exciting time for AgResearch and our sector. I look forward to working with our stakeholders to deliver the full benefit from this investment to New Zealand,” he says.

Staff unease at Invermay

The Invermay campus, which is home to the genetic research and livestock programmes, has been a focus of attention.

The plans have been criticised by the Public Services Association (PSA). National secretary Richard Wagstaff who reports that some of its members at Invermay say that only about 20 percent of the staff there would be willing to relocate, while others say that rather than moving to Christchurch, they will move overseas.

This will result in loss of capacity and expertise from New Zealand’s vital agricultural science and research sector, “which we can’t afford,” he says, adding that some of the staff at Invermay were moved from the Wallaceville campus in Wellington a few years ago, as part of a similar re-organisation of resources.

However, both B+LNZ and DINZ have received signals from AgResearch that it is working to ensure staff are not lost.

B+LNZ working closely with AgResearch

Mike Petersen, B+LNZ Ltd chairman.Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd, which is a significant funder in research programmes totalling over $5 million a year with AgResearch, has been working closely with the CRI to ensure the needs of this sector are not compromised by the plans, says chairman Mike Petersen in his latest Chairman’s Update.

Acknowledging the effects of this plan on the staff and people involved in AgResearch, he wrote: “Change is difficult, particularly when  it involves potential relocation away from friends and family. However, in our discussions with AgResearch we have been reassured that even though there are no re-locations planned before 2016, it is working through this as carefully as it can.”

The area of concern for sheep and beef farmers is the genetics work based at Invermay, “We have been assured by AgResearch that it is working hard to ensure our future needs will be met and that it will do everything it can to retain the core group of people needed to ensure that the work sheep and beef farmers require can be delivered under the new proposal,” says Petersen.

As a nation, New Zealand needs to continue to look at how we can make best use of limited resources. “As a sector, we need to ensure that we have the best possible research and extension in place to continue the incredible productivity and efficiency gains made by farmers over the past 25 years. The creation of innovation hubs will, in my view, kick-start new thinking and ideas as we place groupings of scientists together in central locations. New Zealand is a small country and scientists will continue to travel the length of the land researching and talking about their work.”

Deer industry keen to ensure Future Footprint delivers

Concern has been voiced in the deer industry too about the impact of the Future Footprint plan on deer research. Industry representatives have sought assurances that deer research will not be diminished and have received a strong commitment from AgResearch to its on-going deer research programme.

“People at the Invermay campus have been absolutely critical in the success of our industry,” says Deer Industry New Zealand deputy chair Jerry Bell, “but, the reality is that deer research has been contributed to from a range of campuses for some time now. What’s of greatest importance is the quality of, and the investment in, those people, not necessarily where they are.”

He says DINZ believes that the Future Footprint plan presents opportunities for AgResearch to retain and attract top quality fundamental scientists to a large modern hub. “It is extremely important that the change process associated with Future Footprint does not result in a short-term loss of the people who are so critical to delivering science for our industry.”

Bell understands that farm systems science, including for deer, will remain regionally focused, at Invermay. “Farm systems  – including research to deliver environmental benefits – will remain an important part of the deer industry’s research programme.”

DINZ has recently agreed a five-year research programme with AgResearch and has received a strong commitment from AgResearch that the programme will be delivered.

“Our priority will be to work closely with AgResearch to minimise the risk of losing critical people and to ensure that the new configuration improves AgResearch’s ability to deliver for the deer industry.”

ANZCO believes it will deliver even more value

One of New Zealand’s largest export companies, meat processor ANZCO Foods, believes AgResearch’s development plans will deliver even more value for the primary sector.Mark Clarkson, ANZCO

“We already work closely with AgResearch to ensure our sheep and beef producers benefit from its scientific research and innovations,” says ANZCO managing director Mark Clarkson.

“AgResearch’s consolidation plans have been designed to increase industry collaboration. We look forward to further developing the partnership and delivering even more value to the primary sector through new science and the resulting contribution to New Zealand’s economic growth.”

Fed Farmers supports move

Recognising the reconfiguration will not be without some pain, Federated Farmers is also supporting the Future Footprint move, saying New Zealand needs modern progressive agricultural research centres of excellence.

“You could probably squeeze several AgResearch’s onto the footprint it currently occupies,” observes Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers’ vice-president.

“It it is ‘bricks and mortar’ versus capability then capability must win out,” he says. “Excepting a few modern buildings, AgResearch is operating out of tired facilities and these are not good advertisements for world-beating science.”

He points to the facts that there is a ‘Food HQ’ coming to Palmerston North comprising AgResearch, Massey University, the Riddet Institute, Plant & Food Research, the Bio Commerce Centre and Fonterra. In the South Island, an ‘Ag HQ’ campus at Lincoln will see AgResearch co-located with Lincoln University, Dairy NZ, Plant & Food and Landcare Research.

“I should add that the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre is based in Palmerston North and comprises most of those will be at either the Food or Ag HQ hubs.

“Neither Ruakura, nor Invermay, are shutting up shop. Instead, they are changing focus to specialise in the land and water interface. A key priority for New Zealand farming,” concludes Dr Rolleston.

After consultation, the current planned size of each campus is:

  • Grasslands (Palmerston North): 310 roles
  • Lincoln: 301 roles
  • Invermay: 33 roles
  • Ruakura (Hamilton, where meat science research has traditionally been based): 96 roles

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