Opponents of AgResearch's plans for a new research hub at
Lincoln say it will come at the cost of a vibrant existing
agricultural hub centred around Invermay. Otago Daily Times
reporter Vaughan Elder takes a look at some of the key
players in this so-called Dunedin hub.
''Our submission describes this hub, with Invermay at its
centre. It has no name or identity. It just is.''
Through this hub, Dunedin had made major contributions to New
Zealand's farming sector, including identifying the genetic
basis for a doubling of productivity in the lamb industry.
The hub involved many departments at the University of Otago,
32 staff at AbacusBio, which brings scientific discoveries at
AgResearch to the ''farm gate'', staff at Zoetis, formerly
called Pfizer Animal Health, and also research funder Ovita.
''Though it is difficult to quantify, we estimate this hub to
comprise somewhat over 100 full-time-equivalent staff, '' Mr
AbacusBio managing director Neville Jopson agreed that what
went on in Dunedin effectively formed a hub.
''Hub is a loaded word with the Government, because they are
trying to set up these hubs [in Lincoln and Palmerston
North], but yes I think there is [a hub in Dunedin].''
''If you were setting it up you might do it differently and
it's probably a little bit fragile, but there is kind of a
critical mass there.''
The strongest link between Abacus Bio, which had been
steadily growing in recent years, and AgResearch, was through
genetics and applying ideas developed at Invermay to the farm
''Abacus is at the very applied end of things, so we tend to
work with farmers and end users, like meat companies.''
This work involved helping farmers use genetics to select
''Lambs, for example, needed to survive, needed to produce
meat, have not too much fat. Genetically we select for all of
It also worked with companies, including Dairy NZ, Beef and
Lamb NZ and Alliance Group.
In the short term, shifting jobs away from Invermay could
create opportunities for growth at Abacus Bio, but he had
worries about the long-term implications.
''If anything, there is probably some short-term
opportunities for us. With AgResearch we have a really good
relationship, but it is complex, because in some areas it is
a little bit competitive in the applied space,'' he said.
However, the potential loss of expertise, with people
choosing not to shift from Invermay, created ''uncertainty''
for the future.
''It all comes down to people. If [scientists] don't go, then
they have got to find people to replace that.
''You can advertise and fill positions, but how long will it
take to recover from that?''It would also make it a little
harder for its staff to collaborate with AgResearch staff.
''For us it's really convenient to be able to come across the
hill, just drive across and have meetings and things like
It was possible some staff who decided not to make the move
from Invermay could be employed at Abacus Bio.
''But you also have to think, we are a firm of, at the
moment, 32 people and managing growth is difficult.''
The council's submission also focused on the link between
AgResearch and the University of Otago, especially in the
In the submission Mr Hodgson explained how animal genetics
capability grew at Invermay largely due to its link with the
university, saying it was ''as strong today as it has ever
''It drifted to Invermay from the late '70s, but especially
after about 1985, for one reason; the establishment of the
molecular biology unit at Otago University, by Prof George
''It involves many academics in many departments, mostly in
the school of medical sciences - anatomy, biochemistry,
microbiology and immunology ... but also in
Otago University disease research laboratory director Prof
Frank Griffin, who has collaborated with researchers at
Invermay for almost three decades on solving animal health
problems, mainly in the deer industry, said Invermay had been
an ''excellent resource'' for his research.
''We have the longest standing collaboration with AgResearch
in the country ... and that's gone on since 1985
''We have been able to do a fantastic amount of work for the
last 30 years with Invermay,'' Prof Griffin said.
Much of the collaboration centred on the fact Dunedin was
home to the best animal geneticists in the country.
''If you combine [Abacus Bio, Invermay and the university] we
have the potential to do absolute world-leading ...
''That will be completely eroded if we move that capacity
Rather than shrinking Invermay, AgResearch should be
investing further in the facility.
''My argument is that we should be rebirthing Invermay,
because, in fact, what we have had is 20 years of of
degradation of the whole core science facility.''
Former Invermay employee Bernie McLeod, who was made
redundant in 2010 when the possum research unit he led was
dismantled, said having access to Otago University's
expertise and equipment was important. He worked at Invermay
for more than 20 years.
''I collaborated right from the very start with people in the
Anatomy Department, Physiology Department, School of Pharmacy
''Through those departments I co-supervised students. I would
guess it was probably 40 or 50 students that came out of
those departments,'' Dr McLeod said.
This was ''very big'' for exposing students to what went on
''It gets students exposure to the research that's being done
in agriculture and is also training people who later on might
be stupid enough to work for AgResearch.''
His work in the field of animal reproduction meant having
access to the expertise in the Anatomy Department, which also
included microscopy, was important.
''They are leading edge in that area of looking at aspects of
reproduction at a cellular level. None of that exists in
Fellow retired Invermay staff member George Davis was also
involved in collaborating with the university.
''For example, one of our staff decided to go ahead and do a
doctorate, and so her PhD studies were run by Otago
University, but jointly supervised by staff at Invermay,'' Dr
He said the knowledge transfer between the university and
Invermay would not be able to be replicated at Lincoln.
''I hate to say it because I am a Lincoln graduate myself,
but Lincoln these days just doesn't have the depth and
expertise in the animal research field that would complement
what was being done here at Invermay.''
Dr Davis also said much would be lost by losing links with
''For me ... the hub and interacting with other organisations
was not really such a key factor for the work that I did, it
was really [having close] proximity to the farmers and
getting feedback from them.
''Because it's not all one way. Ultimately, a lot of the
ideas come from the farmers, rather than the scientists,'' he
Zoetis, a global animal health company which delivers
medicines and vaccines, has a genetics office based in
A company spokesperson said it contracted GenomNZ, which is
an AgResearch lab based at Invermay, to provide a genotyping
service for its sheep genetics business,''They unravel DNA
sequences to help improve productivity of New Zealand sheep
and cattle farms.''
It also worked with the AgResearch genetics research and
development team to commercialise sheep DNA products.
The spokesperson declined to say how many staff were employed
at its Dunedin office.
Key players in Dunedin's agricultural science
AgResearch's Invermay campus, located near Mosgiel, houses
about 115 staff. Described as being the ''centre'' of
Dunedin's agricultural research hub, it is a base for animal
productivity research. In it's ''future footprint'' plan
AgResearch plans to cut about 80 jobs from the facility, with
it continuing as a ''regional campus'' focusing on
environmental and farm systems.
University of Otago
New Zealand's oldest university has solid links with
Invermay. The university has a strong genetics focus, which
has led to collaboration with genetics scientists at
Invermay. A number of students have been co-supervised by
AgResearch and the university and some have gone on to work
AbacusBio is a steadily growing business, which employs 32
staff. Its work centres around bringing ''basic'' science to
the farm gate. Its main link with Invermay involves taking
ideas developed at the facility and applying them to improve
farming practices. This includes using genetics to help
farmers select stock.
Zoetis, formerly called Pfizer Animal Health, is a global
animal health company which has a genetics office in Dunedin.
It contracts Invermay to do genotyping for its sheep genetics
business and works with AgResearch's genetics research and