Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

AgResearch jobs head to Lincoln, Palmerston North

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson. Jobs at AgResearch are being shifted from Hamilton and Dunedin to Lincoln and Palmerston North. File photo / Stephen Parker
AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson. Jobs at AgResearch are being shifted from Hamilton and Dunedin to Lincoln and Palmerston North. File photo / Stephen Parker

Nearly 300 AgResearch jobs would be relocated over the next few years - mostly from Hamilton and Dunedin - as part of a planned major shake-up by the country's largest crown research institute.

The organisation today released further details of its $100 million plans for its campus facilities and resources over the coming years, as it seeks to deliver on potential to grow agri-food and agricultural export earnings to $60 billion by 2025.

It is proposing two large campuses - one in Grasslands in Palmerston North and one in Lincoln - which would form part of larger "agriculture innovation hubs" with sector partners at those sites.

Over the next three to four years, about 280 roles - which include both science and support functions - were proposed to relocate to Grasslands and Lincoln as facilities became available

AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson acknowledged this would have an "impact" on Dunedin and Hamilton's local economies, he believed the net overall gain for New Zealand would be greater.

About 300 roles would be based at Grasslands, 330 at Lincoln, 30 at Invermay and 90 at Ruakura.

"These proposals will add approximately 215 roles to Lincoln, and 45 to Grasslands, with approximately 180 roles proposed to move from Ruakura and 85 roles proposed to move from Invermay," Dr Richardson said.

"Our science at Grasslands will focus on food, nutrition, animal health and forage," Dr Richardson said.

"Lincoln will focus on farm systems and land use; as well as sheep, beef and deer productivity, supported by our '-omics platform' - genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics.These locations have the right ingredients to create successful innovation hubs: the presence of agriculture-focussed tertiary institutions, other large research organisations, industry bodies and private sector companies."

AgResearch would focus activities at its Invermay (near Dunedin) and Ruakura (Hamilton) campuses on specific environmental and farm systems regional needs, while its executive team would be based out of Lincoln, along with the bulk of its support staff.

No roles would be required to relocate before 2016, and staff would be given a minimum six months' notice before their role was moved, he said.

The proposal was now with staff for a four week consultation period, with final decisions expected in September.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said she was disappointed at the plans.

"Hamilton remains home for a strong number of AgResearch scientists and Waikato remains an important science and innovation region, with plenty of growth expected in the innovation, science and agriculture space over the next 10 years," she said.

Hamilton City Council had created an "innovation zone" under its District Plan that took in AgResearch's Ruakura campus, Innovation Park and Waikato University.

The Public Service Association said the massive scale of the reorganisation took staff by surprise and would force many into a difficult position.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said staff had heard rumblings about the reorganisation but were not prepared for its enormity or the decisions it would force so many to make.

"The reality is many people won't want to move. These are specialised science roles and options are limited.

"There is a risk that this reorganisation could result in a significant loss of specialist knowledge and skills from the system.''

While the changes were planned over several years there would be a long period of uncertainty, Mr Wagstaff said.

"It's a major upheaval which will take people time to get their heads around. We will be working with AgResearch to ensure that every effort is made to accommodate the needs of its staff and that the transition process is undertaken fairly.''

- NZ Herald

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