AgResearch change lifts deer industry fears
The organisation representing New Zealand's deer farmers has become increasingly concerned at the direction of AgResearch's restructuring plan.
There was a growing disconnect between AgResearch's Future Footprint vision, the increasing uncertainty of that plan and its success for the deer industry, the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association said.
Association chairman Kris Orange said it believed the future of deer and sheep research remained within the Invermay campus in Otago.
"The NZDFA has major concerns related to the viability of succession, retention of key staff and commitment to the deer industry should this centre of excellence be forced to relocate."
Staff at AgResearch's Invermay campus would be cut from 115 to 33 as a result of the plan as it looks to create two agricultural hubs, in Lincoln and Palmerston North.
A recent DEEResearch stakeholders industry reporting initiative strongly reinforced the huge risk to future capability that arose from dividing capability across these two campuses, Orange said.
"It seems improbable to the NZDFA that sufficient critical mass will be maintained at Invermay and the NZDFA fears the eventual future loss of this facility and staff with consequences for both deer and sheep industries."
Orange said key staff resignations related to the relocation proposal was of huge concern.
A better solution would be to support the science resources at Invermay rather than capital spending on new buildings and infrastructure within the planned hub at Lincoln.
The association did not believe the resources contained at Invermay's deer research farm would be effectively developed again under the restructuring plan, Orange said.
He feared it would result in the erosion of relationships at the farm level between the science and farmer communities, a strong feature of the deer industry's evolution.
"History has shown that many key staff will not move to a new location and it appears to us the staff involved with deer science will be no different. The risk to AgResearch and agriculture of key staff refusing to move and being lost to New Zealand science cannot be underestimated."
Orange understood that suggestions to let the deer research group remain at Invermay had been ignored.
The NZDFA believed there was an opportunity to further develop Invermay, utilising one of AgResearch's best buildings and for staff to utilise Dunedin as a base.
Retaining the jobs, capability, key staff and confidence at Invermay was logical, compelling and critical for the deer farming industry, Orange said.
"On paper there is merit in having fewer hubs, both in monetary terms and in capability, however, in reality this is not as practical as it sounds."
In a statement, AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson said he was disappointed to have heard of the association's concerns via the media.
It contrasted with the "positive and constructive meeting" between AgResearch and Deer Industry New Zealand, NZDFA and DEEResearch representatives in September in Wellington.
"After the September meeting, DINZ and NZDFA indicated support for the Future Footprint proposal and the opportunities for AgResearch to retain and attract top-quality fundamental scientists to a large modern hub.
As the largest cash investor in the New Zealand deer industry the restructuring proposal was designed to get the best possible science out of their investment and onto New Zealand deer farms, he said.
"Our Future Footprint proposal is designed to do exactly that, by delivering better science, more efficiently to the benefit of New Zealand farmers and the pastoral sector."
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