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AgResearch's decision to downsize Invermay and Ruakura is as simple as profit before opportunities to support farmers, writes Malcolm Deverson for the Clutha Agricultural Development Board.
Eminent scientists, commentators and community leaders have outlined their amazement and frustration at this decision.
Encouragement of our bright young people to study the agricultural sciences has taken a dive. The links between agricultural research and grass-roots farmers will wither further.
The Clutha Agricultural Development Board wants to add its voice to the opposition to AgResearch's dubious answer to its current situation. Surely, it is obvious researchers and scientists need to be in among the people they are trying to help.
We add a fervent and desperate voice because these changes are most likely to take away a direct service the Ag Board has been using for nearly 20 years.
No theories or political agendas are involved. We actually use the services we imagined were there for the benefit of farmers.
The Ag Board is unusual as an independent not-for-profit organisation which has had a paid membership of up to 250 farmers and farming professionals.
We have aimed to build capability and knowledge among the farmers in the Clutha district through projects, demonstrations, and seminars. Our farmers want and need science extension happening on their farms.
The Ag Board developed as a response to the ''sunset industry'' talk of the late 1980s. It has been able to be a successful conduit between researchers and academic institutions and grassroots farmers of all farming types and skill levels.
Scientists based at Invermay have been key to our extension activities. We have worked together in the early days on crossbreeding sheep programmes and monitoring a dairy conversion at Clydevale.
Invermay has often provided speakers for farmer education events such as those associated with the CF2000 sheep benchmarking programme, hugely important and progressive for the industry.
A lot of work was done together on West Otago soils - aeration, low-rate effluent spray systems and issues with tile drains.
Invermay has held open days and seminar events over many years that have built farmers' awareness of science in their day-to-day work - especially of farmers keen to keep well up to date and help lead the whole industry forward.
More recently, the Ag Board has been dependent on Invermay scientists for its Sustainable Farming Fund grass grub project. All these events simply would not happen without the scientists being available nearby. We do work with people from Lincoln
but they are obviously not so available on the spot. We believe programmes and innovations are most successfully implemented at a local level.
The Clutha Ag Board is committed to standing up for Otago institutions and people. There's a lot of talk about the best centres to do the science but we are talking about where the rubber hits the road - where the useful science is put into practice on-farm.
It makes no sense to destroy the links that have been built up over many years between Invermay scientists and New Zealand's progressive farmers in the South.
Malcolm Deverson is Clutha Agricultural Development Board projects manager.