Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Farm sales to fund $100m spend-up

Farmers are bound to kick up over AgResearch’s plan to sell its surplus farms, its boardroom leader says.

As soon as an idea like this was mooted there was guaranteed to be a lot of angst, AgResearch chairman Sam Robinson said at Lincoln last week.

He had just been part of a group of primary-sector leaders praising the organisation’s blueprint for $100 million of spending, as well as a five-point science and business hub around the Lincoln crossroads.

To fund its contribution to both ventures AgResearch is looking to sell at least three of its 13 demonstration farms, the Flock House dairy unit near Bulls, Kaitoke in Upper Hutt, and a nearby property attached to the Wallaceville research facility.

The Kaitoke sale is already under way, with Greater Wellington Regional Council in negotiations to buy it as an option for future water storage.

The proceeds from its farm disposals will contribute to rebuilding at Lincoln, an upgrade at Grasslands in Palmerston North, and refurbishing at Ruakura, in Waikato, and Invermay, in Otago.

Pleasingly for the government, the Crown research institute will fund it all from retained earnings and borrowing, as well as cash from the property sales.

The farm disposals will be in line with a recommendation to AgResearch three years ago to sell several surplus properties by 2016. It also meets formal directives that limit the Crown’s contribution to such projects.

Those goals are now entrenched in AgResearch’s Transforming Agriculture template for 2012-17, which says: “We expect the planned realignment of AgResearch’s campuses and farms with our stakeholders’ and scientists’ needs to be largely self-funding, with most costs to be met through the proceeds of selling surplus assets. Business cases will be required for the proposed divestments and new investments.”

Robinson said AgResearch would do two to three months of consultation with staff before finalising the $100m investment plan.

Talk about the farm sales started two years ago and the idea had firmed up by June last year. No AgResearch campuses were at risk of closure and in an overall context the farm sales would be the easy part, Robinson said.

“The hardest part within this whole programme is keeping the science going with the reorganisation and not disengaging the staff, or more positively, to keep staff engaged.”

As for the hub, the aim is to link people and facilities, much like is done overseas.

The government will not be able to say until later this year how the cluster will be funded, although AgResearch and Lincoln will make the first contributions.

Economic Development, Science Innovation, and Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the timing of the hub concept was fairly unique in that Lincoln University and AgResearch already needed to spend significant capital. 

AgResearch was saddled with surplus property nationally, while Lincoln was recovering from earthquake damage.

As neighbours at Lincoln it had become apparent they could do something exciting in terms of primary-sector innovation, Joyce said.

Many details needed to be tied down but there was an opportunity to produce something that was not only sensible economically in terms of shared facilities but more importantly brought together the respective brainpower of all the organisations at Lincoln.

The hub partners are AgResearch, DairyNZ, Landcare Research, Lincoln University and Plant and Food Research.

Related stories: Hub partners ‘co-locating’, not mergingHard work behind plan

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