Plans a 'sideline' after damage

Any new work between the Otago Regional Council (ORC) and Invermay agricultural research centre is a ''sideline'' to the ''damage'' done by the restructuring plan confirmed this week, ORC chairman Stephen Woodhouse says.

Mr Woodhouse was asked to comment on Dunedin-based National List MP Michael Woodhouse's undertaking in yesterday's Otago Daily Times to work with stakeholders like the Otago Regional Council to encourage more work at Invermay.

Under controversial plans confirmed on Thursday, Invermay will lose most of its more than 100 staff to Lincoln when restructuring has been completed in 2017.

AgResearch did make minor changes to the proposal, including retaining the 900-strong deer herd at Invermay. The centre will have 38 staff once restructuring has been completed.

The ORC chairman said the council had had discussions with AgResearch about possible future collaboration involving environmental challenges, such as freshwater management.

''We have an existing relationship. We've been working with AgResearch staff recently to see whether there's opportunities to further that ... but that would have happened anyway.

''It doesn't take away from the damage that we believe will be done to AgResearch as an organisation with the restructure they're intending following through with - in particular, the loss of skilled staff around the genetics field.''

He was pleased that the deer farm was being retained at Invermay.

''At the end of the day, the key to the damage from this proposal is the dismantling and attempt to move the genetics staff team away from Invermay, where they are part of a wider hub involving the university [of Otago] and several other commercial companies.

''Science delivery is not about new buildings, it's about people, and if you lose those key people then you've got nothing. It doesn't matter how flash your infrastructure is.''

Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms said Invermay's work on southern-specific agricultural issues continued to be crucial. However, she deplored the ''flawed'' plan to shift the bulk of the staff to Lincoln.

''This is to advantage Lincoln. It's not to advantage in any way the work that's currently taking place in Invermay.''

She supported the decision to move AgResearch's sheep flock in Woodlands, Southland, north to Invermay.

''We have to strengthen what we have at Invermay,'' Ms Timms said.

In a prepared statement, National MP Mr Woodhouse, who was unavailable for an interview, said he believed there was a good opportunity to develop Invermay into a regional environmental science hub.

''We can realise that opportunity if a number of local stakeholders work together with that goal in mind.

''That includes the regional councils, who are advocating for Invermay, making more use of the local expertise at the facility and potentially setting up a joint venture with AgResearch and others to conduct some of their environmental science work.

''The best way we can ensure a facility like Invermay grows in Otago is by backing it with more local investment and offering high-quality services its stakeholders want and are willing to pay for.''

-eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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