Despite being signed off by Steven Joyce nearly a year ago, the full business case for AgResearch’s restructure has been suppressed until now. It reveals that the whole organisation is put at risk for uncertain returns. $100m taxpayer money is to be spent; and in one scenario modelled - a worse outcome is produced than business as usual. I guess it is now obvious why they tried to hide the detail for so long.
In July last year, the Government’s largest Crown Research Institute - AgResearch – announced its plans for a major restructure. A lot is at stake since AgResearch is the taxpayer-fuelled science engine that underpins productivity-growth on New Zealand farms.
Starting in the South, discontent is spreading across New Zealand with news of the decision to break up a successful hub centred on its World-leading Invermay campus. On Saturday, New Zealand’s largest independent newspaper broke the news that background to one of the country’s most significant export-related restructures has finally been released.
Previously, AgResearch’s own internal review singled Invermay campus changes out – as the piece of the AgResearch restructure puzzle that didn’t fit. Change is hard, but the internal review team concluded that most of what was proposed across New Zealand would meet the organisation’s internal goals. However – Invermay should be grown, not shrunk, it said.
Where to from here?
Sheep and deer farmers in particular will be angry. It is unacceptable that this business case was kept from them until now. They are the clients. AgResearch has been treating industry stakeholders like mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.
AgResearch last year released a shorter redacted version of the business case, in a failed attempt to give the impression of transparency. What we now know is that the public were being fed only half of the story: the part AgResearch thought fit for farmer consumption.
The drastic changes proposed also create serious problems for families of scientists at Invermay’s Mosgiel campus. Many have partners who will struggle to find good work in Lincoln and will face significantly higher mortgages. They simply won’t move there.
The worst-case scenario in the business case modelling now looks wildly optimistic. It assumes scientific staff will relocate – when available evidence says they will not. An earlier restructure saw just 28% of scientists retained; those close to this one say it is shaping up no better.
Instead, the majority of world-class scientists who’ve built Invermay’s international reputation are proposing to leave the organisation to pursue opportunities abroad. Another group are proposing to take early retirement. While Steven Joyce has been typically short and sarcastic in his responses to my parliamentary questioning on Invermay, he has shown some awareness of the importance of staff retention to organisational capability. As shareholding Minister, he’s left himself some wiggle-room for intervention.
Breeders know the importance of Invermay to their commercial success. In particular sheep meat productivity has doubled and disease incidence in deer has been slashed. AbacusBio and other important industry participants have contributed to extraordinary success in the Ag sector off the back of facilities and research at Invermay.
The Government set itself the admirable goal of doubling agricultural productivity. Invermay has played a huge role in historic successes and promises to play an important part in the future. Invermay must be saved for the best future for New Zealand’s on-farm productivity.
Signatures are being collected across the country. Sheep breeders in Northland, Manawatu and Southland abhor the changes equally. If you’re lucky enough to live in Otago there are dozens of places to sign the petition I’ve launched opposing the changes. Visit www.saveinvermay.co.nz to find out more or to download your own copy of the petition form.
The board of AgResearch is showing itself out of touch with the industry it serves. Shareholding Minister Steven Joyce must call the Board to account. The Invermay changes make no sense.