11 Sep 2014

Call for agriculture research 'continuity'

7:15 pm on 11 September 2014

A funding threat to three Centres of Research Excellence is one of the reasons a boost to science funding is needed, Federated Farmers says.

Dr William Rolleston

Dr William Rolleston Photo: Supplied

As part of its newly released election manifesto, the federation is calling on the next government to increase spending on science and innovation by another $600 million over the next three years.

Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston said New Zealand's agricultural research capability had been degraded over the past two decades.

He said a decision not to renew base funding for the three centres of excellence targetting bio-protection, food innovation and reproduction was of real concern because the centres underpinned science strategy in agriculture.

"Our message to whoever comes in as government is, if they're not going to be funded as CoREs (Centres of Research Excellence), they need to have a plan B. These institutions need to continue because they are fundamental to New Zealand's research effort."

Dr Rolleston compared graduates in the primary industries with those in other, more creative, subjects and said just 14 people graduated at degree level in forestry last year, despite it being the country's third largest export earner; at the same time, 24 people graduated with degrees in acupuncture.

New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science president David Lewis said the industry needed to be better at selling itself to young people.

"I've just come back from the Horticultural Congress in Brisbane, and one of the arguments there was that we need to get out and advocate for horticulture and for our primary industries generally," he said.

"And I think that advocacy, letting people know how important it is, letting people know what's involved, all the different disciplines and activities that are involved in primary industries, and the benefits for our society.

"I think we get a little bit blasé about expecting produce to be just available in the supermarkets, so that advocacy role that I think Federated Farmers have demonstrated admirably is a really good way to get people interested in primary industry and coming through as graduates."

Mr Lewis said he agreed with Federated Farmers' call for more money to be invested in certain key areas.

"I'm very pleased that they're advocating for more funding for science. They're advocating the link between industry and science and how we can work together to make all that sort of thing work," he said.

Mr Lewis also singled out the centres of excellence for bio-protection, food technology and reproduction.

"We've got to look at where that funding does go and that, actually, that ongoing continuity in building of momentum and backing of our centres of excellence - having formed them, let's make sure that we support them and see that work carry on."

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