AgResearch gets the message in Gore

Organisers of a sheep breeders' meeting on possible downsizing of Invermay research facility say AgResearch management must seriously consider the message from the meeting.

AgResearch staff were told at the Gore meeting that to move Invermay scientists and research capabilities to a facility in Lincoln would be a damaging blow to the sheep and deer industries in Southland and Otago.

The meeting organiser, genetics manager at Mt Linton Station Hamish Bielski, said there had to be a chance AgResearch could change its decision on the move.

If the downsizing went ahead it could threaten New Zealand's aim to double the size of the agricultural economy by 2025, he said.

Mr Bielski said he was sure AgResearch staff went away from the meeting ''shaken up''.

''Basically they could not answer any of the questions with any substance. It was blatantly obvious how bad the move of Invermay to Lincoln would be.''

It seemed to him there were other agendas behind the move.

Mr Bielski said key points to focus on regarding the viability of the move were two made by Berl director Kel Sanderson. They were that research should not be moved from Invermay because science was best applied in the field when it was close to where it was being used, and that the attraction of scientists to a campus was more successful when that campus had ''rock star'' scientists.

The move of Invermay away from Otago would mean a loss in proximity of research and cause top scientists to leave AgResearch, he said.

Southern Texel Breeders chairman and meeting organiser Hugh Gardyne said the executive of the Southern Texel Breeders would decide what action to take regarding a vote of no confidence in the AgResearch board.

At the meeting in Gore, the motion was left on the table, but would be reconsidered, he said.

Dialogue with economic development minister Steven Joyce and finance minister Bill English would continue.

Mr Gardyne said the executive would gather counterarguments to the proposals and present them to the ministers, including presentations by Berl director Kel Sanderson and former AgResearch scientist George Davis.

Mr Gardyne said he believed the AgResearch charter said it had to demonstrate social responsibility, but by not listening to the people opposed to the move, it was not doing that, he said.

When asked if he thought there was a chance action opposing the AgResearch plans to move staffing and science from Invermay, Mr Gardyne said there was always hope, otherwise the group would not be taking action.

AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson said the Gore meeting was constructive, and a good opportunity to discuss plans with farmers.

The plans would allow AgResearch to deliver better science, more effectively, to New Zealand farmers, the pastoral sector and the New Zealand economy.

''We remain committed to find the best solution to continue to deliver the science all New Zealand farmers rely on to stay ahead of their international counterparts,'' Dr Richardson said.

Dunedin North Labour MP Dr David Clark said the petition to save Invermay, which he initiated, was approaching 4000 signatures.

A final date for the petition had not been decided yet.

Dr Clark said it was also becoming clearer senior science staff were not prepared to shift from Invermay to Lincoln, a factor identified by AgResearch as a major risk. There was a real risk this would have an adverse effect on attempts to double the agricultural economy by 2025.

- Leith Huffadine.