14 Mar 2014

Southern farmers confront AgResearch

7:59 am on 14 March 2014

AgResearch is not holding out much hope of significant changes to its plan to relocate most of the scientists from its Invermay research centre near Dunedin.

Sam Robinson.

Sam Robinson. Photo: RNZ

About 80 Otago and Southland farmers confronted four AgResearch board members and four management representatives at a heated meeting in Gore on Wednesday, leaving them in no doubt of their opposition to the plan.

They passed a resolution rejecting the plan to shift the animal genetics unit to an expanded research hub at Lincoln, moving about 80 staff leaving only about 30 at Invermay.

The meeting called on Science Minister Steven Joyce to order an independent review of the decision-making process. The farmers were particularly upset about AgResearch leaving them out of the consultation process.

AgResearch chair Sam Robinson said it had consulted widely with farming representatives, but he conceded an earlier meeting with southern farmers might have been helpful.

He said consulting with 25,000 farmers is beyond what would have been expected, but in hindsight he could have been clearer about some of the institute's messages.

The farmers told AgResearch they are angry over its plans to dismantle a working genetics unit to create a new research hub at Lincoln in Canterbury, and say they should have been consulted first.

Mr Robinson said the plan is not finalised yet, but whatever the outcome, Invermay will remain as a regional campus. He said they have heard the passionate message from southern sheep farmers and will discuss it when the full AgResearch board meets at Invermay on Thursday.

He said if he were a betting man, he would tilt towards small modifications to the plan, not any wholesale reversals.

It's not just southern farmers who are opposing the change, according to the research centre's former director, Jock Allison. He says a survey of ram breeders around the country found 92 percent against the plan as well.