David Clark | Issue 05

David Clark | Issue 05

Invermay 101

If youíve been around a while, youíll know Invermay is the name of a world-class agricultural research facility in Mosgiel that often partners with the University of Otago. It is part of AgResearch, the largest Crown Research Institute owned by the New Zealand Government.

Recently the Government has proposed a cut in the number of scientists at Invermay. This has deer and sheep farmers up in arms. It has also upset many Dunedin residents who see the change part and parcel of the recent trend to shift jobs northwards. AgResearchís restructure has seen 100 million dollars of taxpayer money thrown up in the air for uncertain returns.

The Government has set itself ambitious goals for agricultural productivity. Thereís not a problem with this as long as the target is approached sustainably.

An internal review of the restructure plan across New Zealand was largely supportive; only the report made it clear that the proposed changes at Invermay donít stack up. The management team that reviewed the plan found AgResearch was more likely to achieve its goals if it grew Invermay, rather than shrinking it.

Farmers, too, know the importance of Invermay to their commercial success. Sheep meat productivity has doubled. Disease incidence in deer has been slashed. Dunedin firm AbacusBio and other important industry participants have contributed to extraordinary success in the Agricultural sector off the back of facilities and research at Invermay. Now a survey of Ram breeders across New Zealand has shown 92 per cent are against the change.

The plans ultimately stand or fall on the retention of science talent and the continuation of world-renowned science at Invermay. Key staff have declared they wonít transfer to Lincoln as the proposal requires them to do. New Zealandís Ag sector cannot afford this loss of talent.

The Minister of Science and Innovation is coming under fire from the sheep industry and communities across Otago. Taxpayers in Otago and beyond are asking what it will take for the AgResearch board to reconsider their plan. To put pressure on AgResearch, I recently launched a petition to Save Invermay. The petition has so far attracted over 3,500 signatories, and hundreds more signatures are being received by my office each week.

The wheels are falling off the AgResearch restructure plans. A rethink will be a chance for the Government to show they havenít lost touch with New Zealandís export sector, and the South.
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2014.
Posted 5:30pm Sunday 23rd March 2014 by David Clark.