Neil Gemmell, University of Otago Centre for Reproduction and Genomics professor and director, takes the time to talk about the future of animal science at his Dunedin laboratory. Photo by Dan Hutchinson
The proposal to centralise AgResearch's staff in Lincoln and
Palmerston North could result in a scientific brain drain,
University of Otago professor of anatomy Neil Gemmell, who
worked on collaborations with Invermay Agricultural Centre in
the past, said he believed the decision was based on
''dollars and cents'' and politics, and could result in a
loss of expertise in science in New Zealand.
''There are some science reasons [for the centralisation],''
Prof Gemmell said. ''Although they are not as clear as they
AgResearch announced late last month a proposal which would
see 85 roles at Invermay and 180 at Ruakura shifted to the
crown research institute's Lincoln and Palmerston North
campuses, although no roles would be required to move until
The reduction of staff at Invermay could push people overseas
and into other careers, Prof Gemmell said.
''People faced with a change, like these scientists, will
explore their options,'' he said. ''Option one will be to
move with AgResearch and option two will be find other
''And it could go both ways.
''I think the science progress will be significantly impaired
in the short to medium term.''
It also meant University of Otago graduates would be faced
with a decision to move if they could not find work in the
area, as many graduates had chosen agricultural science
because of the relationship between Invermay and the
''As soon as people start to think about movement, they will
ask the question: `Is it any different having to move to this
place rather than a place that's not in New Zealand','' Prof
He also feared the relationship between the organisations
would be diminished.
An employee of AgResearch, based at Invermay, told Southern
Rural Life they believed, with the centralisation of
AgResearch, a brain drain at a regional level was inevitable
and had ''the potential to happen nationally'' as many would
find more opportunities for their specialties abroad.
''In the short term there's so much pain ... that many of the
brighter scientists may go elsewhere,'' the person, who
Southern Rural Life agreed not to name, said.
They believed it was more important to have people within
reasonable access to agriculturists rather than in hubs, as
modern communication negated the need to be looking over
''In terms of getting the research out to those who need it,
we need people on the ground who have expertise in the
research results,'' the scientist said.
''It's much harder to do that if you are based up in Manawatu
or Canterbury, where things are different to Otago and
Victoria University professor of biological sciences Ken
McNatty said the reorganising of AgResearch was a step
backwards for the organisation, the field of agricultural
science and the wider agricultural industry in New Zealand.
Prof McNatty worked for AgResearch at its Wallaceville
facility, in Upper Hutt, until restructuring required him to
relocate to Invermay, he chose to leave AgResearch and stay
''The breaking down of expertise in AgResearch has been
happening for some time. We are losing some very significant
expertise and it's been building for probably a decade and I
think that's quite alarming.''
It could take more than 10 years for agricultural science to
recover in New Zealand following the proposed reorganisation
of AgResearch, he said.
Many would leave the organisation before they had to
relocate. He expected 20% or less of AgResearch's affected
employees to relocate, as that was what he had witnessed
during the Wallaceville restructuring.
The impact on science graduates would also be ''horrific''
with fewer mentors to guide them ''intellectually'', he said.
He believed it would create a brain drain of scientific
expertise, although not necessarily overseas.
The idea Lincoln would become New Zealand's agricultural
Silicon Valley was ''pie in the sky'', he said.
More long-term costs would be generated than would be saved,
something agricultural science could not afford, he said.
''We have such a small pool of funds for scientific research
in New Zealand, it shouldn't be invested in buildings, it
should be invested in people.''
AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson said, while he had
joined AgResearch after the Wallaceville campus was closed,
the current proposal was ''fundamentally different'' and
AgResearch had ''learnings to take out'' of the process at
Wallaceville, which would allow a smoother transition.
He could not comment on the staff retention rate at
Wallaceville, but said AgResearch was allowing the three-year
time period so those with ''strong community ties'' to the
Otago area could make a thought-out ''decision which has some
balance between their work for AgResearch and their personal
Projects which concerned on-farm and environmental science
would be continued at Invermay and the maintenance of
collaborations with the University of Otago was a ''focus''
for the organisation, he said.
- by Timothy Brown