Government backs action to drive strong wool growth

The Government is investing to create new product categories and new international markets for the country’s strong wool and is calling on Kiwi businesses and consumers to get behind the environmentally friendly fibre, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has announced.

Wool Impact, a collaboration between the Government and sheep sector partners under the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund aims to grow export revenues for wool.  The $11.4 million, three-year programme will result in sector partners contributing $6.9 million on top of the Government’s $4.5 million investment.

“It would be fantastic to see strong wool becoming our first choice of fibre in our homes, schools and businesses. Wool Impact is charged with making it a compelling and affordable alternative to synthetic fibres, and reversing the significant under-investment of the past three decades,” Damien O’Connor said. Continue reading

Ayesha Verrall replaces Megan Woods as science-sector Minister

The science sector has a new Minister after the Cabinet reshuffle announced today.

But this was not highlighted in the Prime Minister’s press statement, which perhaps is a measure of where research and science rank in the Government’s priorities.

Jacinda Ardern explained that she has made changes to her Cabinet line-up following the decision of senior Minister Kris Faafoi to resign from Parliament and Speaker Trevor Mallard’s nomination to a European diplomatic posting.

The changes will take effect following a ceremony at Government House tomorrow afternoon.

The press statement featured these points:

  • Kris Faafoi resigns from Parliament. Kiri Allan promoted to Justice Minister, Michael Wood picks up Immigration
  • Speaker Trevor Mallard to end 35 year parliamentary career in mid-August as he prepares to take up a diplomatic post in Europe. Adrian Rurawhe to be nominated as Speaker
  • Priyanca Radhakrishnan moves into Cabinet and gains Associate Workplace Relations and Safety
  • Kieran McAnulty becomes a Minister outside of Cabinet with a focus on regional issues – picking up Emergency Management and Racing. Duncan Webb to take over as Chief Whip
  • Chris Hipkins takes over Police and passes COVID-19 Response to Ayesha Verrall

Much further down in the statement, the PM says:

“Dr Ayesha Verrall has played a critical role in our ongoing COVID-19 management this term. Having moved from the emergency to the ongoing response now is the right time for her to pick up the COVID-19 Response portfolio. She also picks up Research, Science and Innovation.”

The statement makes no mention of Megan Woods losing – or surrendering – the science portfolio to concentrate on housing responsibilities.

Source:  Prime Minister’s Office  

Halt the erosion of research funding – NZIAHS submission on Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways Green Paper

The Government last year began a consultation on the Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways Green Paper, which aimed to initiate an open and wide-ranging conversation on a range of issues facing the country’s research, science and innovation system.  Submissions were closed earlier this month.  Here is the NZIAHS submission…

NZIAHS welcomes the ongoing expansion of science research investment targeted towards social science issues, for implementation of Vision Matauranga and for embedding Te Tiriti in Government-funded science. These activities are necessary for our changing society. NZIAHS sees a need to recognise two key wordings in the Maori version of Te Tiriti: the article one concept of kāwanatanga katoa (i.e. governance) and the article two concept of tino rangatiratanga (i.e. unqualified chieftainship over their lands, villages, and all their taonga, treasures).

We could say that NZ’s science system needs to further develop partnership with Māori on matters of land and water use and management, and be more receptive of the concept defined by Te Ao Māori, that the health of animals, humans, and the environment is intimately connected. It is heartening to see these recognitions being championed by the Ministry for Primary Industry.

We wish to emphasise that this expansion of scientific research effort must be accompanied by an equivalent expansion of total research investment, not by a diversion of investment from current areas of focus. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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