There is anger in the South after leaked documents revealed
AgResearch has ignored recommendations to save key parts of
the Invermay agricultural research centre in Dunedin.
The documents, obtained yesterday, showed strong opposition
to AgResearch's ''future footprint'' restructure proposal
from more than 200 staff, including at Invermay.
It also showed AgResearch's own change management team (CMT),
appointed to consider the 245 staff submissions, agreed with
many of the concerns.
Its recommendations included that key genomic, animal
productivity and deer research scientists should remain at
Invermay, rather than being concentrated at Lincoln.
The response from AgResearch's executive team, contained in a
separate leaked reply to the recommendations, was to reject
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said when contacted the revelation
was ''quite shocking'' and appeared to undermine earlier
suggestions the proposal would change.
''This would seem to indicate there was never any intention
of change in the proposal. It was perhaps a bit disingenuous
and a little cynical.''
An angry Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead
went further, saying the news ''absolutely, completely
''I'm absolutely blown away that they are going completely
against their own team that was set up to review this
''It blows their process completely out of the water. It
completely lacks any credibility. I'm just astounded.''
The news had left him ''very angry'' and questioning the real
motivation behind the restructure.
''There's some other things behind the scenes here. I smell a
Dunedin Labour MPs Clare Curran and David Clark also
expressed their concern at the restructure after visiting
Invermay yesterday to talk to staff.
AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson did not respond
to an interview request yesterday, but issued a statement
defending the process.
He said the CMT report provided the views of staff, many of
whom could be affected by the changes, but had been
''carefully'' considered and changes made ''where we
considered it appropriate''.
Staff consultation was now over, but AgResearch would be
meeting stakeholders - including Mr Cull - to ''share our
thinking behind the current plans''.
He would also be ''happy to consider'' the counter-proposal
to be presented by Mr Cull on October 10, and stressed change
was more than two years away.
''We will continue to explore any opportunities to improve
the work that we do and as new opportunities present
themselves we will evolve our plans,'' Dr Richardson said.
The latest revelations came a day after Dr Richardson
confirmed AgResearch would be pressing ahead with its ''core
plan'', first revealed two months ago, with only minor
That meant about 82 jobs would go from Invermay after 2016,
although Dr Richardson said at the time more jobs could be
kept in Dunedin if that was proven to provide ''better value
for New Zealand agriculture''.
Confirmation of AgResearch's plans this week also prompted
anger from one anonymous Invermay scientist, who said there
was ''a lot of ill-feeling'' within AgResearch.
''There are some of us who would like to put a vote of no
confidence in ... AgResearch management, but that would
basically mean being sacked tomorrow,'' he said.
The CMT report underscored the discontent, noting a lack of
information, understanding and trust in the proposal among
It warned up to 82% of scientists might refuse to shift and
instead quit the organisation, raising the prospect of key
staff being lost, it said.
The ODT has also obtained a copy of the Dunedin City
Council's submission on the AgResearch restructure, prepared
by former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson.
It warned AgResearch's plans for a new research hub at
Lincoln would see Dunedin's existing hub - built around
Invermay, the University of Otago and high-tech companies -
The result would inevitably be the complete closure of the
Invermay campus within a few years, as remaining staff and
empty buildings became uneconomic and were sold, most likely
at a loss, it predicted.
That was in stark contrast to the CMT report, dated September
13, which concluded Invermay offered the best base for all of
AgResearch's animal productivity scientists, including deer
That was because its links to Otago University, especially in
the field of genomics, and Invermay's proximity to other
scientists, related companies and farmers meant it offered
the best cost-benefit results.
Staff did not see ''any benefit'' in relocating animal
productivity teams to Lincoln, which had a weaker animal
science programme, it said.
The University of Otago was New Zealand's best tertiary
institution in the field of genetics and genomics, it added.
''The CMT felt that Invermay was a more natural colocation
for an animal productivity focus and that a forced colocation
at Lincoln is likely to put capability at risk, without
yielding significantly greater benefit.''
Staff were also ''strongly against'' the proposal to relocate
Invermay's deer research capability to Lincoln, which would
make on-farm trials more time-consuming, given much of the
deer industry was in Otago and Southland. It would also mean
the loss of the ''Invermay brand'', which boasted excellent
facilities and deer research farms, the staff worried.
The CMT agreed AgResearch's deer researchers needed to be
located with other animal productivity scientists, but said
this should happen at Invermay, which offered a more
''effective and efficient'' base.
The report also recommended AgResearch's animal genomics and
Genomnz teams remain at Invermay, rather than being shifted
Their research relied in part on access to sheep flocks,
which in the South Island were found mainly in Otago and
The University of Otago was also the ''most natural'' fit for
collaboration in the field, while Lincoln had ''limited
capability'', the report said.
Invermay also had better access to a cluster of outside
companies, like Silver Fern Farms, and a better concentration
of sheep farmers.
A shift to Lincoln would bring some benefits, but Invermay
offered ''significantly greater premiums, now and into the
future'', it said.
However, the executive response, dated September 26, said
concentrating animal productivity teams - including genomics
scientists - at Lincoln would allow an ''integrated
approach'' with researchers in other fields.
Staff would also need ''appropriate'' access to animals, but
the call to keep deer research staff at Invermay was ruled
out, it said.
The response would better address ''on-farm science
challenges'', and the benefits outweighed those found by
keeping key staff at Invermay, it said.