Government cuts funding to AgResearch and staff leave and morale plunges

The Government’s key agricultural research organisation – AgResearch — has been hard hit by funding cuts.

Staff morale has plunged and key staff are resigning.

Large scale redundancies caused by funding cuts and the closure of an Ag research centre has seen key staff leave and only 39% of remaining staff said they had faith in the leadership while only 9% said they felt engaged with the organisation.

It’s CEO, Dr Tom Richardson said he wasn’t surprised by that.

“We have had to make a large number of science staff morale plunge at AgResearch.

At the same time the Crown Research Institute has been forced to recruit overseas because New Zealand universities are not producing enough agricultural scientists.

Currently 67% of AgResearch’s new scientists come from overseas.

Dr Richardson says too many young people “sleepwalk past the agricultural   sector during their university education without realising the opportunities it has.”

But during a Select Committee review of AgResearch, Labour’s Dunedin North MP, David Clark, claimed that the forthcoming closure of the Invermay Research Centre had seen a number of core scientists leave AgResearch.

Dr Clark read a list of 10 names of scientists working on sheep genetics and genomics (the Sheep Reproductive Group) to Dr Richardson who said that while he agreed they had left, there were other key scientists who had stayed and more had been recruited from overseas.

But Dr Clark said the departures had gutted the Reproductive Group.

“This is a phenomenal turnover in a three-year time frame in a critical are that adds $30 million a year to the economy,” he said.

Dr Richardson said it was true that because AgResearch had lost some of its Government funding, the Reproductive Group was not now the size it once was.

Asked by Dr Clark about a survey which showed that only 39% had faith in the organisation’s leadership and only 9% said they felt engaged, Dr Richardson said he wasn’t surprised.

“We have had to make a large number of science staff redundant on the basis of the funding round that we did not succeed in and that always shakes staff confidence.”

Dr Richardson said there had been another survey within he last fortnight and job security remained a huge issue for staff.

In its half yearly report to December 2014, AgResearch reported that its crown funding from the Ministry f Business Innovation and Employment and from the Ministry of Primary Industry’s Primary Growth Partnership was down by $5.3 million.

In February the Auditor General presented a report on Primary Growth Partnership was sharply critical of the way the Ministry of Primary Industry had run them. 

Meanwhile AgResearch s pursuing a strategy (Future Footprint) to focus its activities on two campuses at Palmerston North and Lincoln preserving Ruakura (Hamilton) and Invermay (Dunedin) for regional needs.

It is also seeking funding for its work through partnerships with the private sector.

This led Dr Clark to ask whether there wasn’t a danger that AgResearch could end up focussing mainly on dairying thus not being able to contribute to the diversification that would be needed if the Government’s goal of a 30- 40% increase in exports was to be achieved.

Dr Richardson said AgResearch had 18 priority areas for investment and it would continue to invest in beef and lamb research but “we need partners to invest.”

The Auditor General has also been inquiring into AgResearch and though she found there was no need for a formal inquiry — as Dr Clark had asked for – she did say that she would continue to monitor the impact of the Future Footprint strategy on staff.

 

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