Unless the ''erosion of capacity'' in agri-science is
halted and quickly reversed, New Zealand will remain a
preferred supplier of low-tier food commodities and additives.
That is the message from Frank Griffin, who is concerned
about the direction of the sector, including the proposed
restructuring of AgResearch which would see the Invermay
research centre reduced.
For more than three decades, Prof Griffin has led a
University of Otago-based research team devoted to solving
animal health problems in the deer industry.
That work has included developing diagnostic tests for the
detection of two major bacterial diseases of New Zealand deer
- bovine tuberculosis and Johne's disease - and a vaccine for
the prevention of yersiniosis.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand
Prof Griffin said the success of farming in New Zealand over
a century had been led by its partnership with science.
The industry was supported by a ''world-leading''
agri-science platform in pastoral production systems, disease
control, assisted reproduction technology and the management
of animal genetics.
However, staffing levels in New Zealand agri-science had
decreased by more than 50% during the past 20 years, at a
time when there had been ''explosive developments'' in
science and technology worldwide, he said.
The emphasis of the science programme had switched from the
factors that influenced production to marketing. The
remaining few were largely involved in crop production,
biosecurity, epidemiology and environmental science, he said.
If New Zealand farming was to sustain its ''premier
position'' in food production, it must reinvest in the
research required to maximise the commercial potential of the
rural sector as the ''fuel stock'' of the economy.
Recent problems in the food processing sector and
restructuring within AgResearch were ''symptomatic of the
malaise'' that had arisen through the erosion of agri-science
and lack of investment in a ''future-proofed'' science
Prof Griffin believed a national forum should be established
involving representatives from the farming sectors, food
processors, regulators and scientists, to formulate research
programmes to ensure the future success, credibility and
sustainability of New Zealand's farm systems.
''New Zealand agriculture is the repository of some of the
best and most diverse animal and plant genetics available to
''Successful exploitation of this resource cannot be
sustained unless we engage a new generation of biologists
whose science will allow farmers to realise their full
''New Zealand currently has world-leading scientists in
genomics, proteomics, assisted reproduction and animal health
research. All of this capacity will be lost to the
agriculture sector within a decade unless there is a reversal
of current trends in research funding,'' he said.
Talented young scientists must be recruited into agri-science
''to stop the haemorrhage and ensure our future success''.
He believed New Zealand's premier position as an exporter of
milk products would be challenged by the EU, United States
and South America within the next five years.