AgResearch's plan to slash the number of scientists at
Invermay came under sustained attack at a sheep breeders'
meeting in Gore yesterday.
AgResearch board members and senior management attended the
meeting, set up by the Southern Texel Breeders Association,
hoping to ''bust some of the myths'' about its plan, but left
with a clear message of no confidence from farmers and
breeders who attended.
By the end of the at-times heated meeting - which lasted more
than three hours - motions were approved calling on
AgResearch to reverse its plan to shift scientists from
Invermay, and for Science and Innovation Minister Steven
Joyce to hold an independent inquiry into AgResearch's plan.
Former Invermay scientist George Davis, economist and Berl
director Kel Sanderson and former AgResearch director Jock
Allison argued against the AgResearch plan.
It was also revealed that four of Invermay's ''rock star''
scientists did not intend to shift to Lincoln, which one of
the meeting's organisers, Hamish Bielski, said would lead to
an ''erosion of trust'' among farmers.
AgResearch chairman Sam Robinson, who at times looked
uncomfortable, and along with chief executive Dr Tom
Richardson came in for some intense questioning, tentatively
agreed the board would consider the arguments made, saying
''everything is always up for grabs''.
''No plan is finalised yet, but as we move through time we
are going to get to decision time.''
At one stage, he said AgResearch came to ''consult'' farmers,
before correcting himself, saying they were there to
''explain our position''.
Meeting organiser Hugh Gardyne finished the meeting by
summing up the mood of the about 100 people who attended the
''The message I want you to take back to the minister is that
we are angry. We are angry at the likely outcomes of the
Future Footprint proposal.''
He proposed a motion of no confidence in the board and
management of AgResearch, which was left on the table after
Mr Robinson said such action would ''probably not be
Instead, the motion calling for Mr Joyce to hold an inquiry
was approved. Mr Bielski earlier said he knew of at least
four Invermay ''star'' scientists who were not moving, saying
senior scientists John McEwan, Dr Michael Lee, Dr Tricia
Johnson and Dr Shannon Clark had indicated they did not plan
to shift. There would be an erosion of trust among farmers if
these staff did not move.
''There will be huge fallout.''
New Zealand Deer Farmers' Association chairman Kris Orange
said it was also concerned about the possibility that ''rock
stars'' would leave.
''If these guys don't shift then we are going to have a real
Mr Davis earlier went through a list of 10 reasons to expand
Invermay rather than shrink it, saying the proposal to have
fewer than 30 science staff at the campus would leave it no
''I personally predict that within five years of moving this
large number of staff ... that we would see the rest of
Invermay being run down to the point of closure.''
Invermay's facilities were also the most up-to-date of any
There was ''ample scope for growth at Invermay'' without the
need for new facilities, he said.
Mr Sanderson, whose company had earlier been critical of
AgResearch's plan, said the economic benefit it described in
a detailed business case was ''pretty much in the margin of
The expected benefit to agriculture of $20 million a year was
''not a large number''.
''Now I'm not really much of a farmer, but $20 million seems
like about [the annual profit of] four or five dairy farms.''
There was also ''no sound comparison'' between AgResearch's
plan and alternatives.
Earlier at the meeting, Dr Richardson gave the organisation's
rationale for its restructuring plan. It was about improving
science output, while emphasising that money was tight, he
''This has entirely been driven by the desire to do the best
possible science in the most efficient way we can,'' Dr
Fewer than half of Invermay's buildings were used,
AgResearch's farms were underutilised and many of its
facilities were in need of upgrading, he said.
While some of the decisions had been ''tough'', they were all
made in the best interest of agricultural science, he said.
He also attempted to ''bust some myths'', saying there was no
pressure from the Government to help strengthen Lincoln
University or support the Christchurch rebuild.
He also disputed the idea there was a hub around genetics at
Invermay, while at the same time talking up the possibility
of an environmental and farms systems science hub at the
campus - with the possibility of University of Otago staff
shifting to the $12 million Christie Building, which was
built in 2008.
''I think it is a complete myth to say that we have a hub at
He came in for some fierce criticism over the
underutilisation of the new Christie Building, one person
saying: ''I wouldn't trust you to build a block of toilets in
In a statement released after the meeting, Dr Richardson said
it had been a good opportunity to share AgResearch's plans.