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FoodHQ $50m gets final approval

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 11:00 31/05/2014

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AgResearch has given the final approval to its plan to invest $50 million into its Palmerston North campus ahead of the arrival of 60 scientists to the site.

Part of the FoodHQ development located opposite Massey University on Tennent Drive, the AgResearch development stems from a nationwide restructure that will focus the Crown research institute's efforts in Christchurch and Palmerston North.

The Palmerston North site will be the centre for AgResearch's forage improvement, animal nutrition, animal welfare and animal health research work.

"About 300 AgResearch scientists in total will be based at this new hub where they will partner with Massey University, Fonterra, Palmerston North City Council, Plant & Food Research, BioCommerce Centre, Riddet Institute, Manawatu District Council, ESR and AsureQuality to work much more collaboratively in answering the major science challenges and delivering research outcomes for the sectors they serve," AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson said.

"The FoodHQ development offers an incredible opportunity to collaborate with most of the key researchers and companies in New Zealand's most important export sector.

Combining this with the benefits of our long standing links with Massey University on animal health and welfare, and the support from our other campuses, and we are talking about a real step change in research."

While the changes are positive for Palmerston North, they have come with warnings from inside and outside AgResearch that staff would resign rather than relocate.

The Otago Daily Times reported this week that unionised staff at AgResearch's Invermay facility had voted unanimously against the AgResearch board and management this month.

Richardson said the organisation was aware of the risk of losing key staff but said they had been given an "unprecedented period" to work through the restructure.

Staff were not expected to arrive in Palmerston North until 2017 under the plan. Of AgResearch's 830 staff, around 250 - less than a third - will be asked to relocate in 2017.

About 150 of those were from the institute's 580 scientists with the remaining 100 being head office and administrative roles that were moving to Christchurch.

The changes have been welcomed by Massey University with deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Robert Anderson, saying important new research opportunities would result from the arrival of 60 new scientists at FoodHQ.

Massey, AgResearch and fellow FoodHQ partners are beginning to build a super campus where leaders in food research are clustered together.

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"These organisations already have a strong international reputation and developing together is strengthening Manawatu's land-based sciences and food presence and standing on the global stage."

AgResearch already works closely with Massey's veterinary staff, those in the Hopkirk Research Institute and on several animal health and food-related research projects.

Food HQ programme director Mark Ward said the AgResearch growth in Palmerston North would strengthen the Food HQ-led bid for a New Zealand Centre for Food Safety and Research.

"AgResearch and Massey are currently playing an active role in the proposal that would combine the best food safety science and research capability across New Zealand." Federated Farmers food production sciences spokesman Dr William Rolleston called for support for the restructure.

"We must remember that this restructure is not this year, next year or even the year after. We are talking 2017 and while one out of every four scientific or technician roles will be asked to relocate, that means 75 per cent will not.

"I do not know of a major restructure where staff are being given a three-year timescale. "Putting new wine into old bottles seldom succeeds and, frankly, with a few exceptions, the state of current facilities is not a good advertisement for the scientific talent we need.

"To go forward, as primary industries, we need world-class leading scientific capability that delivers what our industries will need." 

- Manawatu Standard

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