AgResearch to sell farms as it moves staff

AgResearch is looking to sell about half the farms it owns for agricultural research as it concentrates its business and staff in Palmerston North and Lincoln.

The crown research institute announced on Wednesday it had begun consultation on its plans to move hundreds of staff from its Dunedin and Hamilton sites to expanded campuses at Palmerston North and Lincoln in Canterbury.

Chief executive Tom Richardson says he expects about half the 13 farms AgResearch owns to be sold over the next three or four years as part of the institute's reconfiguration.

He says the Flock House farm near Bulls will be the first farm to go.

Dr Richardson says AgResearch will keep working with stakeholders, particularly DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb, but also relevant universities and Landcorp.

He says AgResearch will be spending about $100 million upgrading its facilities in Palmerston North and at Lincoln.

The New Zealand Association of Scientists is among those who have concerns about the scale of the reorganisation.

President Sean Hendy says it may help AgResearch save money but could also mean the loss of scientists who are unable or unwilling to shift.

Professor Hendy says by concentrating its activities at Lincoln and Massey, AgResearch also risks reducing its contact with farming communities and universities in other parts of the country, and may lose an element of diversity.

Agricultural and Horticultural Science Institute president Dr David Lewis says the scale of the reorganisation is going to cause disruption for staff, but there will be wider scientific benefits, as the changes fit with overall changes in science policy.

"The Government and MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) are looking for building collaboration and interaction and that our research institutes are working together."

Science commentator and former head of AgResearch's Grasslands Division, John Lancashire, says the reorganisation should have happened years ago, and will help move the emphasis to producing higher value food products.

A final announcement on the reorganisation is expected on 26 September, following consultation with staff.

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