Merging AgResearch into Lincoln University is unlikely to cause job cuts among researchers and academic staff - but there is potential for jobs to be lost among support staff, the organisations say.

AgResearch board chairman Sam Robinson said there was little, if any, duplication of scientists between the nation's biggest science company and one of its smallest universities.

"We see the job cuts, if they did occur, as being minimal and more among the support staff, as opposed to the scientists."

Agresearch is New Zealand's largest Crown Research Institute, with 1000 full-time staff, 604 of whom are full-time researchers, while the university has 610 on its payroll, 219 of those full-time academic staff.

Staff were told of the proposal early today, and consultations are now under way on creating a new university with combined revenue of $230 million and assets of $485m.

After a merger costing an estimated $2.5m, the organisations expect to save about $2.5m a year and attract additional revenue of $50m a year.

Lincoln University vice-chancellor Roger Field said the merger was not based on cost-cutting through job cuts, but the greater opportunities that it offered.

"We don't have figures at the moment that suggest what adjustments will need to be made in staffing," he said.

AgResearch chief executive Andrew West said the merger could make Lincoln one of the top land-based universities in the world, with "serious international growth" not only in student numbers but in research contracts.

"There may be some corporate staff affected by this, but we have to be realistic - this is about growing the opportunities for scientists and academics," he said.

After consulting staff and stakeholders such as shareholding ministers and science funding agencies, the Agresearch board and the university's governing council will decide whether to recommend to Cabinet a full merger later this year.

"New Zealand needs to lift its rate of productivity growth and the obvious place to start is with the land-based industries. Through the creation of a world-class, internationally ranked, 21st century land-based University, the performance of New Zealand's land-based industries will be enhanced substantially," said Tom Lambie, Lincoln's Chancellor.

AgResearch chairman Robinson said when AgResearch was formed it brought together animal sciences from the Ministry of Agriculture and plant sciences from the DSIR which allowed, for the first time, "the development of a coherent scientific view of how a farm operates."

"This merger will go that one vital step further and translate all that knowledge and technology that our scientists produce into coherent education and training for immediate industry benefit along the entire value chain.

AgResearch has more scientists than any other government-owned research organisation in New Zealand and merging with Lincoln University will provide a more stable base for New Zealand's most important research and development, and enhance teaching activity," said Robinson.