Judith Collins is dropped in party rankings – but she has been given the science job for National

Scientists should be miffed that RNZ’s Checkpoint – reporting on the new National Party lineup under Chris Luxon’s leadership – tonight reported that former leader Judith Collins had been stripped of any critical portfolios .


Research, science, innovation and technology is not critical?

For starters, it’s the portfolio which Mr Luxon had been given in November last year when Ms Collins was leader – he was spokesperson for research, science and manufacturing, but it could be said he could not focus on his science responsibilities as well as she will be able to do, because  he was also spokesperson for local government and for land information.

More significantly, his rank then was 29th.  Ms Collins is ranked 19th.

Anyway, Mr Luxon told Checkpoint his decisions were not about repaying any favours from the leadership race, it was about presenting the strongest team.

“I’m sure there will be disappointment at some level, but I can tell you there’s 33 people and we will use all of their skills.”

But RNZ seems unimpressed with the importance of the job given to Ms Collins.  Moreover, in the account which AgScience found,  it removed the word “science from  considerations:

Collins drops from number one as leader to number 19, with just the Research and Innovation, and Technology portfolios.

Luxon put the word back into play, saying Ms Collins has a real passion for the research, science, innovation and technology portfolio.

“She cares very deeply about it and she’s gonna be absolutely brilliant doing it.”

  Ah – but will some scientists be bothered by the appointment?

Let’s not forget that National Party leader Judith Collins once was disparaging of one of the country’s  top microbiologists, Dr Siouxsie Wiles,  during a  controversy surrounding Dr Wiles’ trip to the beach with a friend during lockdown – and was criticised in many quarters for what she said. According to RNZ:

Collins told Morning Report she believed “thought leaders” directing the Covid-19 response should follow the rules not just to the letter, but in the spirit of them. She said calling Wiles a big, fat hypocrite was simply a phrase similar to the widely-used phrase ‘fat, big liar’.

Another appointment of interest to the ag/hort science sector is that of Barbara Kuriger.  She is 10th in the pecking order with agriculture, biosecurity and food safety responsibilities.

Scott Simpson (ranked 11) has been given climate change and environment while Stuart Smith (ranked 17) has viticulture along witb energy and resources and EQC.

In Judith Collins’ November 2020 line-up, David Bennett was spokesperson for horticulture and for biosecurity.

Barbara Kuriger was spokesperson for agriculture and food safety (along with energy and resources) in that lineup. But she then was ranked 14th.

Horticulture has not been assigned to anybody in the new lineup

Robotic asparagus harvester aimed at addressing industry challenges

The Government is backing a $5 million project to develop a commercial-scale autonomous robotic asparagus harvester, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.

The Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) is contributing $2.6 million to the project. Project partner Robotics Plus Limited (RPL) will build on a prototype asparagus harvesting robot developed by Waikato University researchers, and the New Zealand Asparagus Council will develop a strong marketing proposition for exporting the asparagus.

Damien O’Connor said the harvester will help address the ongoing labour shortages in the asparagus industry and support New Zealand asparagus growers to tap into high value export markets.

“Asparagus production is highly dependent upon seasonal labour to harvest, pack and process the asparagus – and labour for picking and packing accounts for about 50 percent of the costs,” he said.

“However, attracting and retaining labour to harvest New Zealand asparagus is an ongoing struggle for the industry.

“Introducing robotics into the industry will provide a much-needed production boost, saving time and money, while ensuring the produce is of the highest quality.”

Damien O’Connor said that New Zealand asparagus growers mostly supply the domestic market, but this project aims to enable a step change toward exporting.

“Only being able to sell asparagus in New Zealand limits our grower’s revenue potential, and having one single domestic market exposes them to risk. This automated solution will finally give New Zealand growers the opportunity to compete on the export market.

“Because green asparagus grows above ground it is well suited to automation. A harvesting robot would be able to operate at any time of the day and utilise sensory data to determine the best harvesting strategies based on environmental conditions and growth patterns.”

SFF Futures is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Through the fund the Government has to date co-invested more than $150 million into 157 projects worth almost $299 million in total. It’s a key part of the Government’s Fit for a Better World: Accelerating Our Economic Potential Roadmap.

“SFF Futures promotes problem solving and innovation in our food and fibre sectors in order to make a positive and lasting difference,” Damien O’Cien onnor said.

“It’s a programme to supercharge what our sectors have always done so well, and that’s innovate.

“We’re excited at the prospects this new project will bring for our asparagus industry by helping to solve some age-old challenges, tap into new technology, and ensure a long-term growth path.”  

Read more about Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Regional council acknowledges Government’s Overseer review

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Chief Executive James Palmer says the council is assessing the findings of the review of the nitrogen modelling tool known as Overseer, prepared by a Scientific Advisory Panel, which found limitations in how the tool estimates nitrogen leaching on farms.

The results of the review are particularly relevant for the council’s assessment of Tukituki land use consent applications, which will likely need to be revised, based on the future development pathway of Overseer, Mr Palmer said.

The Scientific Advisory Panel expressed concerns with Overseer’s model structure and found it doesn’t provide reliable estimates of nitrogen loss in a range of situations.

But Mr Palmer noted the Government has made it clear it will redevelop Overseer until it is fit for purpose, or a new tool is developed. Continue reading

Overseer report: Govt promises work on improving tools to manage nutrient losses from farms

Federated Farmers says the foundations of New Zealand’s farm environment management system have been rocked to the core by the release of today’s report into the effectiveness of farm nutrient modelling system Overseer.

The report by an independent Science Advisory Panel has identified shortcomings with the current version of nutrient modelling software Overseer and concluded that it had no confidence in Overseer’s ability to estimate nitrogen losses from farms in its current form.

The feds have been fighting against the use of Overseer by local councils to define regulations for nutrient management on farm for more than a decade.

Their complaint has been Overseer’s lack of accuracy.

While the farm leaders were expressing their dismay, Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor were promising the Government will help develop improved tools to manage and estimate total on-farm nutrient loss.

The Ministers welcomed the government-appointed Panel’s report and said it will help develop improved tools for farmers and regulators to meet future Essential Freshwater planning requirements.

“Despite its shortcomings Overseer has been a useful tool to build awareness and influence practices to manage nutrient loss at the farm and catchment level,” David Parker said.

“There is a robust body of independently peer-reviewed knowledge on nitrogen mitigation options that sits alongside Overseer.

“Farmers have used Overseer, alongside advice, to improve practices and freshwater outcomes.

“We encourage farmers to continue their vital efforts to reduce nutrient losses.”

The Ministers say they recognise the urgency of the work, given the 2024 deadline for Regional Councils to develop RMA plans under the Essential Freshwater reform package.

“Our farmers and growers have put in a significant amount of work and investment over many years to boost environmental outcomes on-farm,” Damien O’Connor said.

“The Government will seek to ensure improved tools for estimating nutrient loss are transparent, accurate and effective.”

“Options to be considered include developing a risk-based index, developing a next-generation Overseer to address the panel’s concerns, greater use of controls on practices to manage nitrogen leaching, and potentially longer-term developing a new approach altogether.”

David Parker said it was vital farmers and councils had some certainty over the next year. Councils will continue to implement their plans and the freshwater reforms.

Damien O’Connor said it was essential that farmers and councils using Overseer have some certainty on how to proceed.

For this reason, the Government will support work on a next generation Overseer.”

Regional councils will continue to administer consents to manage freshwater at the farm level although there may need to be adjustments in the approach in some cases.

David Parker said:

“We’ve spoken with Councils, and they can proceed with developing plans on the basis that nutrient loss estimation, and risk assessment tools will be available for the preparation of those new plans by the end of 2024.” 

Damien O’Connor said:

“We need to build on the progress that farmers have already made.”

Over the coming months, officials will develop best practice guidance for models used in environmental regulation and these will feed into approaches and tools in the longer term.

“The Government supports the development of a next generation Overseer and other nutrient management tools. Having fit for purpose tools now will support our farmers to deliver long-term environmental benefits across New Zealand,” Damien O’Connor said.

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Professor Dame Juliet Gerrard is reappointed as Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor

Professor Dame Juliet Gerrard FRSNZ has been reappointed as the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Professor Gerrard was initially appointed for a three-year term beginning 1 July 2018. She has now been appointed for a further three years to 30 June 2024.

Jacinda Ardern says Professor Gerrard has played an invaluable role and she is delighted that she has agreed to serve another term.

“Juliet has made an enormous contribution, particularly in relation to our response to COVID-19 and the eruption at Whakaari/White Island. Her work on long-term issues such as plastics and ensuring the sustainability of our fishing has also been invaluable.

“More broadly, her significant contribution to science in New Zealand was recognised in the 2021 New Year’s Honours when she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

“Juliet’s contribution, along with her leadership of science advisors across government agencies, continues to demonstrate the critical role of science and technology to society and to support robust decision-making,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Professor Gerrard has specialised in a range of disciplines including biochemical engineering. She is also the past Chair, Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Council giving her wide exposure to other science disciplines.

Source:  Prime Minister

RSI System Performance Report is released

Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods today announced the release of the 2018 Research, Science and Innovation System Performance Report, detailing how New Zealand is performing in key areas.

Findings show New Zealand’s science system is highly productive and produces a large amount of publications both per researcher and per $1 million spent on higher education and research, she said.

New Zealand’s international collaboration rates are high and strong connections have been made with key overseas partners, including in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and China.

The Report also says that while only 20% of New Zealand university graduates specialise in STEM subjects, New Zealand has a net brain-gain with more STEM professionals migrating to New Zealand than STEM professionals departing.

Total expenditure on R&D was 1.23% of GDP in 2016.

The Ardern Government is committed to raising this to 2% – an increase that will require sustained growth in R&D investment by both the public and private sectors.

The 2018 Research, Science and Innovation System Performance Report presents a series of findings from across the system, and compares New Zealand’s performance to other similar-sized economies and Australia.

It can be read on the MBIE website HERE.

Source:  Minister of Research, Science and Innovation

National Research Charter for New Zealand is being developed

Several questions are raised by the announcement of the development of a new charter to set out the principles underpinning “sound research practice” in New Zealand.

Whether this is a solution looking for a problem is one question. Another is to ask who decided this is necessary and for what reasons – and why can’t research funders be relied on to set their own standards for the appropriate use of their money?

Then there’s the prospect of another layer of bureaucracy being added to the science domain – potentially one that will gear funding to the satisfying of “political” considerations.

Whatever the reasons, a working group has been formed, with support from research funding agencies, bodies representing different types of research organisations and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Dr John Hay has been appointed independent chair of the working group.

He says the group’s task is to develop a proposed charter within 12-18 months.

“The aim of the charter is to provide clarity to all researchers and research organisations on expectations for sound research practice.

“It also seeks to foster a culture of collective responsibility for maintaining good research practice, set out what sufficient compliance looks like and also support cohesive research teams working across many research organisations.

“The charter will also provide clarity for international collaborators on the expectations on them when they are working on New Zealand-based research.

“It will support the public to have confidence in the research community by making it clear how important the public interest is and by both setting out what is expected of researchers and ensuring that poor practice is dealt with appropriately. It will meet the wider communities’ expectations for competence, balance and soundness from researchers.”

Other countries have developed a charter, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, Dr Hay said.

But rather than simply adopt one of those, it was important that New Zealand develop its own charter to include elements specific to the context of this country.

Setting out how researchers should meet their responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi was the one example Dr Hay provided, although he said the charter will be bench-marked to contemporary international good practice.

Without such a charter in place, the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Code of Professional Standards and Ethics has been used informally but it is meant to only apply to the Society’s members.

“The new charter would, through its adoption, apply to all researchers employed by or contracted to research organisations,” Dr Hay said.

“Others, such as private research funders and researchers operating without public funding and outside participating research organisations, can be encouraged to adopt it also.”

The organisations that have agreed to co-sponsor the charter’s development are Universities New Zealand, Science New Zealand, Independent Research Association New Zealand, Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Royal Society of New Zealand. The society will serve as the secretariat for the working group.

The working group has been asked to consult widely across the research community.

More information on the National Research Charter development is available HERE.

EPA releases science behind hazardous substances

The Environmental Protection Authority has publicly released, for feedback, the approach used to assess hazardous substances which pose risks to people and New Zealand’s environment.

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances Group, says there’s always a lot of interest in the authority’s decisions on what hazardous substances we approve and why.

“The approach and the scientific models outlined in the guide help us decide how to manage risks, by either imposing controls on how the substance is used, like its maximum strength, who it is available to, and how it is labelled, or declining the application,” says Dr Thomson-Carter.

“These are important decisions and we’re encouraging interested parties to read our guide and give us feedback on how useful and user-friendly the material is.”

This is the first time the authority has released its decision-making approach, which assesses the evidence and data for hundreds of imported or manufactured hazardous substances in New Zealand.

New Zealanders come into contact with hazardous substance daily, including a range of substances from fly sprays through to weed killers, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

“We always look at the benefits and risks and costs, and consider the effects a substance poses to human health, the environment, and the economy,” she said.

“The EPA will only grant and approval for a hazardous substance to be imported or manufactured in New Zealand if it is considered that the risks can be adequately managed, and that the benefits outweigh any residual risk.”

As the authority continues to refocus on becoming a more proactive and transparent regulator, it wants to enable interested parties and the public to understand the science behind its decision-making, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

Read the risk assessment guide HERE.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

AgResearch man becomes vice-president as three Royal Society Council posts are filled

AgResearch’s Dr Tony Conner FRSNZ CRSNZ has been elected vice President (Biological and Life Sciences) of Royal Society Te Apārangi, one of three positions on the society’s governing body announced this week.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles MRSNZ was re-elected a general councillor and Associate Professor Melinda Webber MRSNZ was elected a general councillor.

It’s worth knowing who’s who among the bigwigs of The Royal Society Te Apārangi (its legal name remains the Royal Society of New Zealand), because it provides funding and policy advice to the Government in the fields of sciences and the humanities and serves as a distribution agency for government funding, particularly in science research and science education

Constituted under the Royal Society of New Zealand Act 1997 (amended in 2012), the Society exists to:

  1. Foster in the New Zealand community a culture that supports science and technology, including the promotion of public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of science and technology and the advancement of science and technology education,
  2. Encourage, promote, and recognise excellence in science and technology,
  3. Provide an infrastructure and other support for the professional needs and development of scientists and technologists,
  4. Provide expert advice on important public issues to the Government and the community,
  5. Do anything else the council considers conducive to the advancement and promotion of science and technology in New Zealand.

It is a federation of 49 scientific and technological organisations and several affiliate organisations (including the NZIAHS) and has some individual members.

The new members of its governing council are –

Dr Tony Conner FRSNZ CRSNZ, AgResearch, elected unapposed for a three year term as Vice President (Biological and Life Sciences). Dr Conner has held executive roles in several national and international scientific societies, editorial roles in six international journals, and several governance roles that currently include being a director of Grasslands Innovation Ltd, member of the Forage Strategy Governance Group, and member of the Better Border Biosecurity Collaboration Council.

Associate Professor Siouxsie WilesBioluminescent Superbugs Lab, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, at the University of Auckland, has been re-elected as a general Councillor for a three year term. Associate Professor Wiles is a microbiologist and science communicator, her significant contributions to science and the nation were recently recognised by her selection as a finalist for the New Zealander of the Year award in 2018.

Associate Professor Melinda Webber, Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland, has been elected as a general Councillor for a two year term. Associate Professor Webber is a Rutherford Discovery Fellow and a member of the Royal Society Te Apārangi Gender Diversity Steering Group. She presently works with a wide range of international Indigenous communities as an education and tribal researcher.

Source:  Royal Society Te Apārangi

Let’s not forget science is one of the pillars of Labour’s primary industries approach

NZIAHS president Jill Stanley – going out to bat for agricultural and horticultural scientists on Radio Live at the weekend – reminded her interviewers and audience of something Labour’s Andrew Little told Federated Farmers almost a year ago.

Mr Little was Labour’s leader at the time and immediately after the introductory courtesies he told the feds:

The future of New Zealand’s primary industries can be summed up in two words — science and sustainability.

These are the twin pillars of Labour’s approach.

Last month Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced 15 appointments to the Primary Sector Council, which has been charged with helping the primary sector to capture more value from its work.

The council will provide independent strategic advice to the Government on issues confronting the primary industries.

But where are the scientists?

Dr Stanley raised that question in a press statement (HERE).

She was asked to discuss her concerns with Radio Live’s Rural Exchange team (the interview can be heard HERE) at the weekend.

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