Wednesday, July 6, 2022

AgResearch overhaul tipped to boost research

A proposal to overhaul AgResearch’s campus and farm infrastructure will create a vital agricultural research institute for the next 50 years, AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says.

The restructuring proposal involves axing 180 jobs at Ruakura, near Hamilton, and 85 jobs from the Invermay site near Dunedin.

The $100 million proposal would result in large campuses at Grasslands in Palmerston North and at Lincoln in Canterbury.

A final decision is expected next month following a four-week consultation period.

“We will be modernising our science facilities, co-locating our capability wherever possible, and participating in large agriculture innovation hubs, all of which will generate greater returns across the pastoral sector,” Richardson said.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put AgResearch in the best possible long-term position to do more quality science more effectively and efficiently, and to make a much bigger difference to the agricultural sector’s productivity and profitability.”

The Grasslands and Lincoln campuses would form part of much larger agriculture innovation hubs, with key sector partners at those locations, he said.

Grasslands would focus on food, nutrition, animal health, and forage, while Lincoln would focus on farm systems and land use, as well as sheep, beef, and deer productivity.

“These locations have the right ingredients to create successful innovation hubs with the presence of agriculture-focused tertiary institutions, other large research organisations, industry bodies, and private-sector companies.”

“We will be modernising our science facilities, co-locating our capability wherever possible, and participating in large agriculture innovation hubs, all of which will generate greater returns across the pastoral sector.”

Tom Richardson

AgResearch

Activities at Invermay and Ruakura campuses would focus on specific environmental and farm systems regional needs.

Over the next three to four years, about 280 roles, including science and support functions, are proposed to relocate to Grasslands and Lincoln as facilities become available.

AgResearch’s executive team would be based at Lincoln, along with the bulk of the support staff. Lincoln was chosen over Palmerston North on the grounds Canterbury had a larger population base for retention and recruitment purposes, Richardson said.

The proposed size of each campus is about 300 roles at Grasslands, about 330 at Lincoln, about 30 at Invermay, and about 90 at Ruakura.

The proposals add about 215 roles to Lincoln and 45 to Grasslands.

Richardson acknowledged the impact for the Hamilton and Dunedin economies but said the net overall gain for NZ would be far greater through delivering more quality science as a result of co-location and increased collaboration.

No roles would be relocated before 2016 and staff would be given a minimum of six months notice before their role was moved, he said. Relocation costs would be paid for by the company.

“We are not under-estimating the scale of proposed change. This is a significant project and our immediate focus is firstly on working with our staff and also with our stakeholders to continue to deliver the science and innovation needed to create value for NZ’s agricultural sector.”

The restructuring has the backing of Federated Farmers. Vice-president Dr William Rolleston said capability would be retained at Ruakura and Invermay but the focus would change.

The challenges in the strategy would depend on maintaining and enhancing AgResearch’s good linkage with the University of Otago’s exceptional genetics team and on Lincoln University continuing to build its capability, he said.

“It is no secret that some of AgResearch’s physical scientific infrastructure was getting creaky. Its $100m reinvestment is not only timely, but a wise investment to build strategic capability of benefit to farmers and all New Zealanders.”

Related story: Dismay over Invermay

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