Invermay 'vital for science': farmers

For the past 40 years, Millers Flat farmer Peter Macdougall has used science from Invermay to develop his hill-country property.

Now, the next generation of farmers was ''desperate for science'' as sheep flocks were moving up the hill, because of the expansion of the dairy industry, and there were problems with soils and pasture species to keep those sheep there.

''We need the science. That won't come out of Lincoln; it's got to be done at Invermay,'' Mr Macdougall, who attended yesterday's meeting in Gore to discuss AgResearch's restructuring plans, said.

Southland-based meat processor Alliance Group said recently it had lost 30,000 lambs this year with land-use change, but had picked up 10,000 from hill-country development. The sheep flock would ''continue to go up the hill'' and science was needed ''now more than ever before'', he said.

Te Anau deer and sheep farmer Eldon Coates said he attended the meeting to ''object vigorously'' to the planned changes ''because Invermay is Invermay''.

Shifting deer research to Lincoln would be ''disastrous'' for an industry that was ''on its knees, just about''.

Invermay's leading work in the deer industry had resulted in breeding a better type of deer.

Mr Coates described the proposed changes as ''nonsensical''.

''Why fragment the system that is working bloody well?'' He questioned how deer research could be replicated at Lincoln, given Invermay's 160ha deer farm comprised 20ha of flat land and the remainder hill, whereas Lincoln was flat paddocks.

Deer Industry New Zealand chairman Andy Macfarlane, who is also a director of AgResearch and a member of the Lincoln University Council, said DINZ's position was neutral at the moment.

Outlining why a viable sheep industry was needed in the South, Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms said the regional council was ''very much in the space'' of balancing the environment with the economy.

There were issues in the region, including catchments in Southland where limits would be set on nutrients. The biggest problem was nitrogen.

The council needed sheep farmers to be viable to reduce the overall environmental footprint in Southland.

Southland was ''not a Canterbury''. It could not do large irrigation schemes, it did not have large amounts of groundwater and the availability of water would limit the expansion of dairying.

''So we need sheep farmers to be making money and not be converting to dairy in the numbers that they have in the past,'' Ms Timms said.

It was critical scientists were able to talk to ''end users'', farmers, and that was not going to happen from a hub 500km or 600km away, she said.

After the meeting, one of the organisers, Hamish Bielski, told the Otago Daily Times while he appreciated AgResearch had ''finally come down'' to consult farmers, he left with more questions than answers.

The open and transparent discussion was ''long overdue'' and he strongly recommended AgResearch take the concerns expressed yesterday on board.

Asked what he thought the likelihood of that was, Mr Bielski said: ''For the good of our industry and our future, the likelihood needs to be high.

''All the argument and reviews all point against it,'' he said.

''There is no strong evidence that says this is a good move.''


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