AgResearch will keep the Invermay research centre open but still plans to shift its animal production unit to Lincoln.
AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson told about 100 farmers at a meeting in Gore yesterday that it would not close or abandon Invermay in Otago.
"That is a complete myth and we are not ignoring southern farmers' needs," he said.
However, former AgResearch Invermay scientist Dr George Davis believed downscaling Invermay could result in the complete closure of the centre within five years.
"Invermay will be run down to the point of closure, I am almost certain of it," Dr Davis said.
Dr Richardson said AgResearch aimed to move its animal production unit from Invermay to Lincoln but would retain its farm systems and environmental sustainable research teams, which were important for the southern region, at the Mosgiel-based campus. This meant the number of scientists at Invermay would be reduced from about 70 to 25.
The meeting was hosted by the Southern Texel Breeders group.
Meeting chairman Jeff Grant cautioned farmers against "grandstanding", saying if they talked too long they would be cut off.
Dr Richardson said AgResearch aimed to create two central hubs - at Palmerston North and Lincoln - which would allow more collaborative and effective research.
"This isn't about losing regional science, job cuts or less engagement with farmers," he said.
Dr Richardson said New Zealand's export economy currently represented 30 per cent of gross domestic product. The challenge was to lift this to 40 per cent by 2025.
Seven per cent to 8 per cent annual growth in the agricultural sector was required to meet this target.
He said that while AgResearch had invested $17 million into the Christie Building at Invermay five years ago, most of the other buildings were outdated, under-utilised and required modernisation.
However, Dr Davis said that statement was "completely wrong" and that the oldest building was established in 1983.
"It's an outrage that AgResearch is planning to close a modern campus," he said.
Dr Davis gave several reasons why the Invermay campus should be expanded rather than scaled down.
They included the loss of skilled staff who would be unlikely to transfer to Lincoln, and the fact Invermay had a highly regarded international reputation and was very active in on-farm collaboration in the south.
"The scaling down of Invermay is a complete reversal of AgResearch's policy of 10 years ago," he said.
Former AgResearch Invermay director Jock Allison presented results of a survey he undertook which showed more than 90 per cent of sheep farmers he had talked to wanted to keep the animal production unit at Invermay.
- The Southland Times