Anger still over changes at Invermay

Changes to AgResearch's plan to cut Invermay's campus have been welcomed, but critics are angry most of its more than 100 staff are still set to shift north.

Invermay staff learnt their fate yesterday, when the organisation announced an extra five staff would be retained at Invermay - leaving it with 38 staff once restructuring was complete in 2017.

Those who have long campaigned against AgResearch slashing jobs at Invermay welcomed the changes, but said they went nowhere near far enough.

Former Invermay director Dr Jock Allison said there was no ''logic'' behind AgResearch's decision to stick with shifting animal genomics staff north to Lincoln and the fight to keep them in Dunedin ''was not over yet''.

''It leads one to the conclusion that they are not worried about sheep and beef [research] at all,'' Dr Allison said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he was happy to see deer science retained at Invermay, but was disappointed AgResearch had ignored opposition from farmers, industry and in its own staff, and gone ahead with shifting its genomics capability.

It was clear the decision was not solely about science, but an ''overt attempt'' to bolster a ''faltering'' Lincoln University and support the Christchurch rebuild, Mr Cull said.

In contrast, AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson said the changes to its plan secured Invermay's future and strengthened its position as a ''hub'' for regional farm systems and environmental research.

The changes largely centred on deer research. Three deer scientists would no longer relocate, an additional scientist would be added to the deer team and Invermay's 900-strong deer herd would be maintained.

As part of yesterday's announcement, the University of Otago also confirmed it would shift between five and 10 genomics staff and sequencing equipment to Invermay.

Deputy vice-chancellor, research and enterprise, Prof Richard Blaikie, said in AgResearch's press release the move was a ''great opportunity to have closer alignment of staff involved in genomics from both organisations''.

However, he made it clear when speaking to the ODT, it was his personal view that AgResearch should have kept its genomics capability at Invermay.

AgResearch's decision gained praise from several industry bodies, including Deer Industry New Zealand, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ.

Federated Farmers food production sciences spokesman Dr William Rolleston welcomed it as the ''best strategic outcome for New Zealand agricultural science''.

''I think farmers should welcome the way AgResearch has listened to reason, because Invermay's future has been enhanced over the original proposals,'' he said.

However, Beef and Lamb New Zealand was not so enthusiastic about the changes and its chairman James Parsons sought assurances about beef and sheep research.

''[Beef and Lamb] respects it is the call of the AgResearch leadership as to how it runs its business and where it locates its staff.

''However, before being satisfied, [Beef and Lamb] requires more information that suitable plans and mitigations are in place so our research outcomes are not compromised and science capability is retained,'' he said.

Dr Richardson said the decision was never going to please everyone and some tough decisions had to be made ''in the face of some passionate disagreement'' in the interests of New Zealand agricultural science.

''We understand and respect the efforts individuals and groups have made - both inside and outside the organisation - to champion the cause of their particular facilities and regions,'' he said.

''In many respects, these representations have influenced our thinking and our plans have evolved.''

AgResearch also welcomed the opportunity to work alongside staff from Otago University.

Another change announced yesterday was the establishment of an ''animal productivity relationship management role'' at Invermay, responsible for maintaining relationships with Otago and Southland ''animal science collaborators'' and farmers. Invermay's hill country farm would also be kept, and the recorded sheep flock from the Woodlands farm, in Southland, would be shifted to Invermay.

Public Service Association assistant secretary Jeff Osborne said staff were still digesting the news yesterday, but were pleased some changes had been made.

''That shows that AgResearch has been listening to feedback from staff and other stakeholders in the region.''

It was too early to say whether staff attitudes to AgResearch leadership - which earlier this month resulted in Invermay members approving a motion of no confidence in its board and management - would change as a result of yesterday's announcement.

''There is still some way to go in making people feel comfortable about the move.''

Much of this would depend on the ''relocation package'' AgResearch came up with.

Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said AgResearch's final restructuring plan still threatened to rob the Invermay campus of much of its valuable research capability.

''I am very disappointed to see the genetics team moving to Lincoln and the large number of science and technical staff still moving,'' he said.

''There is a huge risk of a loss of experience and crucial staff as a result and I hope AgResearch works aggressively to ensure staff are looked after.''


The changes
- The majority of Invermay's more than 100 staff - including animal genomics scientists - will shift to Lincoln as part of restructuring.
- AgResearch plans to base 38 staff at Invermay by 2017, as opposed to 26 in its original plan.
- Three deer researchers no longer relocating. An additional scientist to be recruited to the deer team at Invermay.
- Deer farm and 900-strong deer herd at Invermay retained.
- University of Otago to shift between five and 10 genomics staff and sequencing equipment to the Invermay campus.


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