AgResearch moves to the design phase of its plan to revitalise its science capability

AgResearch says it is beginning the design phase of the $100 million investment aimed at revitalising its capabilities and resources and deliver better science to New Zealand.

The plans have been significantly enhanced over several months of stakeholder consultation, the CRI said in a media statement (here).

The plans have not gone unchallenged. Invermay staff are reported (here) to have approved a motion of no confidence in the leadership of AgResearch.

Public Service Association assistant secretary Jeff Osborne told the Otago Daily Times the association’s Invermay membership of about 60 met about three weeks ago. Concerns raised at the meeting were passed on to AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson, he said.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) says (here) it understands the strategic intent behind AgResearch’s confirmed proposal to restructure, but is seeking assurance around research outcomes and future science capability for the sheep and beef sector

B+LNZ chairman James Parsons said his organisation requires more information that suitable plans and mitigations are in place so its research outcomes are not compromised and science capability is retained.

Federated Farmers, however, has asked people to look at the best strategic outcome for New Zealand agricultural science and to give AgResearch the chance to reform itself as a 21st Century Crown Research Institute.

The four AgResearch campuses will be at the Waikato Agricultural Hub, Hamilton; FoodHQ in Palmerston North; the new Lincoln Hub near Christchurch; and the Invermay campus and hill country farm near Dunedin. The head office, most corporate staff and the executive team, will move to the Lincoln Hub from the other centres.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson said the support and commitment of research partners and clients was encouraging for all AgResearch staff.

“The reconfiguration of our research business around science and innovation hubs will generate better returns to New Zealand, which will be rewarding for all staff involved,” he says.

“There is widespread agreement that the creation of multi-disciplinary hubs – made up of scientists from AgResearch and other organisations, including a range of agri-businesses – is the best way of delivering results for the primary sector.

“Despite some recent progress at bringing teams closer to their collaborators, currently many of our key science areas that we believe would benefit from colocation are spread around the country. This is a distinct disadvantage for our people, and the work they do.”

Richardson said one of the most evident risks was losing key scientific, technical and other staff.

But in terms of change management programmes, they had years, rather than weeks or months, to work through the best outcomes for themselves and their families and for AgResearch to accommodate their personal circumstances.

AgResearch has 830 staff. Around 250 will be asked to relocate in 2017. Of 580 scientist and technician roles, 150 will be asked to relocate. Around 100 of 250 head office and administrative roles will be relocated.

The modifications to the plan informed by several months of sector consultation are:

• Retaining Invermay and Ballantrae hill country farms for sheep, beef and deer research.

• Retaining existing farm systems deer researchers at Invermay.

• Strengthening the deer team at Invermay with the recruitment of an additional scientist.

• Retaining the 900-strong deer herd at Invermay.

• Transferring the recorded sheep flock from Woodlands to the Invermay science campus .

• Establishing an animal productivity relationship management role at Invermay with the responsibility to maintain the relationships with the Otago and Southland animal science collaborators and farmers.

Focusing its campuses around multi-disciplinary science, education and business hubs would help the CRI deliver even better science, and attract more talent to the sector, Richardson said.

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