Comment: sheep farmers pushing for retention of Invermay

Allan BarberA 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 12 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, writes Allan Barber.

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 five 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 organiser 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 New Zealand and the dissemination of it, currently stifled by proprietary partnerships such as primary growth partnership (PGP)’s, 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.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.

3 Comments on Comment: sheep farmers pushing for retention of Invermay

  1. Stephen

    Thank you for your comprehensive response. My piece was based entirely on the Press Release and Notice of Meeting that I received for the meeting in Gore next week. Obviously the organisers of that meeting need to understand AgResearch’s process and strategy better than they do at present.

    It was not so much that my comments that were incorrect, but the impression given by the reason for the meeting in Gore which AgResearch has agreed to attend.

    I hope the farmers will understand better where AgResearch is coming from.

    Allan Barber

  2. Most of the assertions made in this article are simply incorrect.

    Our chairman Sam Robinson covered most of them in our piece in Farmers Weekly recently. You can read it here http://agrihq.co.nz/article/pulpit-change-essential-for-agresearch?p=8

    More specifically:
    – This is not the first time AgResearch has fronted up to breeders and farmers. There has been significant consultation with stakeholders nationwide, many farmer meetings, and we have the full support of all the major farming bodies.
    – Our redevelopment plans are designed to ensure we can keep pace with the research needs of all of New Zealand’s pastoral sector.
    – The Christie Building actually cost $11 Million and will be used to house the staff remaining at Invermay, together with others, so we can vacate our older and unfit for purpose buildings on the campus, and ensure a better working environment for everyone.
    – Our environmental and farms systems science is remaining at Invermay, so our scientists can work in the local conditions and with the local farmers and authorities to tackle the specific challenges faced in Otago and Southland.
    – The assertion that a significant number of staff will not relocate to Lincoln is incorrect and unfounded. Since no-one will be asked to move before late 2016 and our relocation package has not yet been announced to staff, very few staff have confirmed a final decision on their future.
    – The comment that most AgResearch staff do not agree with the plan is incorrect and unfounded. The plan was designed around staff comments about how the organisation could be more effective.
    – The bulk of the staff at Invermay that have most contact with farmers, and provide regional support at open days and farm visits, are remaining at Invermay so they can continue this work.
    – Our relationship with the University of Otago will continue in a similar manner, just as it does with nearly every other university and research institute in New Zealand.