Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Dismay over Invermay

The future of New Zealand’s leading agricultural scientists and regional economies are under threat as AgResearch plans its future, with talk some scientists are already receiving overseas job offers.

AgResearch has $100 million restructuring plans centred on large campuses at Grasslands in Palmerston North and at Lincoln in Canterbury.

The downside is it involves axing 180 jobs at Ruakura, near Hamilton, and 85 jobs at the Invermay site, near Dunedin.

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

Delegates to a summit in Dunedin last week were united in their call for more investment in the Invermay Agricultural Research Centre.

That message would be delivered in person to Government ministers and the AgResearch board by a southern delegation within days, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull has said.

The AgResearch-Invermay summit in Dunedin drew more than 50 delegates from organisations across the lower South Island.

“This is far from a done deal. It is in the consultation process and CRI’s (Crown research institutes) need to hear that (summit views).”

John Key

The delegates spent much of the day discussing ways to save Invermay and boost the regional economy, before emerging with an action plan that was big on potential but light on detail.

An alternative proposition would be for more investment to expand Invermay, while emphasising the national, as well as regional, economic benefits that would result, Cull said.

There was agreement about the threats posed by AgResearch’s plan to shift 85 Invermay jobs to Lincoln or Palmerston North, especially given Invermay people were already reporting overseas offers coming in for scientists.

It was understood that of the 30 people to remain at Invermay, 12 would be support staff. 

Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms said Invermay’s research was vital to improving water quality in Southland as land-use patterns continued to intensify.

Timms told the summit the Southland environment was different from Canterbury’s and Invermay’s research needed to occur in southern conditions and be presented first-hand to farmers to change habits.

“That won’t happen in Canterbury. It won’t happen in Massey University. That science needs to happen in Southland.”

Whether the delegation will be able reverse the decision to reduce the Invermay workforce remains to be seen.

But there are grounds for hope, given the comment from Prime Minister John Key on television following the summit.

“This is far from a done deal. It is in the consultation process and CRI’s (Crown research institutes) need to hear that (summit views),” Key said.

The summit should serve as a wake-up call on the importance and value of keeping regional public sector jobs, the Public Service Association said.

The association, which represents staff at AgResearch, took part in the summit and expressed concern over the Otago region’s steady retrenchment of public-sector jobs, with Government funding cuts forcing departments to restructure, rationalise, and centralise services in a bid to save money.

In the past 18 months about 123 public-sector jobs had gone from the Otago region and there had been large-scale job losses at NZ Post and Kiwirail’s Hillside workshops, association national secretary Richard Wagstaff said..

“Now, on top of all that, we have the AgResearch proposal, which will take good jobs and skilled people out of the region at a time of high unemployment.

“Many staff won’t want to move but they will be left with little choice if they want to continue in what are specialised agricultural science roles.

“We hope this summit shows that the stripping out of public-sector jobs in the regions through public service cutbacks and centralisation does nothing to promote regional growth and development.”

Related story: AgResearch overhaul tipped to boost research

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