New Zealand's largest Crown Research Institute has announced plans to relocate 280 staff over the next three years as it attempts to centralise its operations in Palmerston North and Canterbury.
Corporate staff, technical advisers and scientists at AgResearch were notified on Tuesday that their positions may be relocated in the shift to agricultural innovation hubs.
AgResearch plans to move 215 positions to Lincoln Centre in Canterbury and about 45 to Grasslands in Palmerston North. The institute wants to shift 180 staff from its facility in Ruakura in Hamilton and about 85 from the Invermay site in Dunedin, though some staff will stay at both centres.
Chief executive Tom Richardson said on Wednesday the move is to more closely align the institute with agriculturally-focused universities Massey and Lincoln, other research institutes and private sector companies.
He said the Lincoln hub would focus on farm science, while Palmerston North would concentrate on food. AgResearch would spend $100 million upgrading its campus facilities at the sites.
Dr Richardson said the change would lead to more knowledge-sharing and collaboration. A final announcement would be made on 26 September, following consultation with staff.
Richard Wagstaff, a general secretary of the Public Service Association, said on Wednesday that staff are shocked by the scale of the re-organisation, with many more affected than expected.
"They knew something was coming but they didn't quite know this. Of course people want to see good research and for AgResearch to be at its best, but they also know at a personal level, this is really going to take some getting used to and is going to take a while to get our heads around."
Mr Wagstaff also believes AgResearch may have trouble getting highly skilled scientists to move.
Expert says plan likely to fail
An agricultural expert has warned AgResearch's relocation plans are likely to fail because its scientists won't want to shift.
Jacqueline Rowarth, a professor of agribusiness at Waikato University, said on Wednesday past relocations from Wallaceville in Upper Hutt and at similar institutes overseas failed because just 10% of the scientists were willing to move.
Professor Rowarth said the AgResearch plan is likely to lead to a huge loss of knowledge and expertise. She said the staff are excellent and doing fantastic work, and this will just shake them up for little gain.
Leaders in Hamilton and Dunedin have also reacted badly, with the Otago Chamber of Commerce saying the plan rips the heart out of the high-performing Invermay unit.
But AgResearch said centralising its activities on two major campuses is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.