21 Apr 2010

AgResearch to cease most of its wool research

9:16 pm on 21 April 2010

Crown Institute AgResearch says it has no choice but to shut down most of the country's remaining wool research, because neither farmers nor the Government are willing to pay for the work.

The institute has confirmed it will axe 36 scientific and technical jobs in wool biology and new textiles over the next three months. It says the lack of funding has is forced to lay off excellent scientists.

Meat and Wool New Zealand chairman Mike Petersen says it's a tragic situation which could hamper the industry's recovery once demand for wool picks up.

But Agriculture Minister David Carter says farmers made a clear choice not to support science iniatives last year, when they voted down the wool levy used to fund it.

AgResearch is expanding staff numbers in some fields, including environmental science and greenhouse gas research, and food science.

Chief executive Dr Andrew West says the decline in research funding from the sheep and beef sector is in contrast to the expanding funding from the dairy industry, particularly in relation to environmental areas such as water quality and greenhouse gases.

"And I think in the future you're going to see more research funded by dairy farmers and Fonterra around productivity on farms and the quality and value of products that Fonterra produces."

A Government-appointed task force that reported its findings earlier this year identified research and development as essential to the creation of new products, uses and markets for New Zealand wool, which it saw as the key to the industry's recovery.

Mr Petersen says cutting back the research capability would hamper that recovery, and once the capacity to do the research is gone, it will take a long time to rebuild if the demand comes back.

A southern Hawke's Bay farmer, exporter and sheep breeding entrepreneur, Robin Hilson, is one of those questions what the years of wool research done in this country has achieved for farmers.

Mr Hilson is part of a farmer group that campaigned against renewing any levies paid to Meat and Wool New Zealand.

He thinks that what's needed is a totally new fibre that combines wool and synthetics and if it cannot be developed here, we should look off-shore. The best textile scientits are to be found in Israel, he says.

Dr West rejects allegations that the research hasn't been good enough, and says someone will have to spend some money if the capability is to be sustained.