Invermay out on a limb

AgResearch, in foolishly ploughing ahead with its reorganisation, has failed abysmally to take heed of what is best for agriculture, the economic foundation of this nation.

Rather than, as it claims, revitalising its capabilities and resources and delivering better science to New Zealand in its $100 million ''investment'', it is wasting millions on new Lincoln facilities, gutting Invermay near Dunedin, losing many of its best scientists and dismantling much of the animal molecular biology (particularly genomics) hub in the city.

All that will be achieved, fundamentally, is a bolstering of struggling Lincoln, the university with various connections with AgResearch board members and with a politically astute and influential vice-chancellor.

It will receive both expensive new buildings and additional staff. Invermay remains an AgResearch campus, but not a ''hub'', with these in Hamilton (agriculture), Palm- erston North (food) and Lincoln.

The head office, most corporate staff and the executive team will move to Lincoln from other centres, with Hamilton also badly hit. That leaves Invermay as a small regional campus with attached farm.

AgResearch, therefore, is destroying much of Dunedin genomics hub, and sets its store on a strong new one developing at Lincoln.

This is despite the University of Otago having a wide range of genetic and biological expertise across several departments and there being private enterprise partners in Dunedin.

This is despite the strengths of Lincoln and Canterbury universities being in other areas. Lincoln does have the advantage of better transport links with much of the country and internationally, through Christ- church's airport, and the AgResearch executive will be on hand.

It is, whether acknowledged or not, a fact most executives like as many of their staff as close to them as feasible.

This is the type of reasoning - even if sometimes acted on unconsciously - which is contributing to the ridiculous concentration and centralisation in Auckland and Christchurch.

The strain in those cities rises and the cost of housing becomes prohibitive while excess capacity abounds elsewhere. Invermay's record in sheep research has been particularly notable and its dissipation is, potentially, an especially serious blow to New Zealand.

As the number of eggs in this country's dairy basket continues to grow, it is all the more important sheep farming, and the diversification that brings, remains healthy.

There are some tokens thrown Invermay's way compared with the original plan. The farm will be kept, as will deer research, and every little bit does help.

One potential bright spot is the move of University of Otago genomics capability to Invermay.

That just might help Invermay kept afloat, even in reduced form. The fear has been that not only would scything cuts badly affect Dunedin and Invermay but that a reduced and small Invermay would wither on the vine.

It might even be possible the Invermay remnants, the university and companies in Dunedin could push forward and show what is possible from here. Hopefully, decimated Invermay is not too far out on a limb.

Labour has made much of this issue and AgResearch's blunder, and could make hay from it. Dunedin North MP David Clark yesterday said Labour would retain Invermay, preserve the animal genetics hub, save money and increase agricultural productivity, all positive and sensible outcomes.

The implementation of the widespread changes - a third of AgResearch staff will have to shift - will take three years and the election is only four months away and a new government could reverse the folly.

The earlier closure of Hillside and the continued centralisation at the expense of Dunedin has led to disgruntlement. The gutting of Invermay piles on more dissatisfaction. There is a rich vein here for Labour and the Greens to tap into.

Many voters in this region who have traditionally voted National or might have no allegiances could well respond to definite and specific undertakings by Labour and might cast their party votes in that direction.

Why not? AgResearch and Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce have let us down.

Although National did surprisingly well in Dunedin last election, that could very well change.


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