Ag Science hub to form near Christchurch, New Zealand

By Grant Jacobs 30/04/2013 9


Now updated with images from concept drawings: see end of article.

A large agricultural science hub based on AgResearch has been announced to be established near Lincoln University, a few kilometres from Christchurch.

AgResearch is New Zealand‘s largest non-University scientific research organisation, based in a number of centres throughout the country, including Palmerston North and near Dunedin (Invermay). Lincoln University is an agriculture-focused university near to Christchurch, the scene of large earthquakes in September 2010, February 2011 and through 2011.

Press releases (2 links) sketch an outline the aims (from the first, introductory passages and most of the generalised ‘nice noises’ (!) omitted),

AgResearch is planning to invest $100 million in facilities and resources over the next four years to boost scientific support for what is New Zealand’s largest economic sector and most important industry.

“This represents the largest investment programme focused on agricultural science in AgResearch’s history and will better position us to help the pastoral sector sustainably improve productivity, export performance and deliver greater value to the New Zealand economy,” says AgResearch Chairman Sam Robinson.

[…]

“We are proposing to have a focus on farm systems, environmental science and dairying at our Ruakura campus in Hamilton. Much of the beyond-the-farm-gate science is proposed to be at our Grasslands campus in Palmerston North. At Lincoln we are proposing to concentrate many of our on-farm research areas and our Invermay campus, near Dunedin, is proposed to predominantly focus on environmental and farm systems capability,” says Dr Richardson.

He says now that the programme has the support of shareholding Ministers, work will commence with a detailed design and consultation phase.

“Our first priority is working through the programme in detail with our staff. We will also be working with our scientific collaborators and sector partners to progress this investment.”

The new investment programme, starting this year, will be funded predominantly through the disposal of existing under-utilised assets, and will not require any new Government investment to be provided.

There are few additional details from current media reports, the main ones being that it is anticipated that around 900 staff will work at the hub, that the proposal was “put to the government by five partner organisations – AgResearch, DairyNZ, Landcare Research, Lincoln University and Plant and Food Research” and that the construction of the hub is targeted to begin in 2014.

Reports point to the hub being partly due to Lincoln University needing to rebuild it’s science facilities after the earthquakes.

Without meaning to play on any fears, I wonder if the phrase “will be funded predominantly through the disposal of existing under-utilised assets” will concern some. It might be read as trying to put a favourable spin on shutting some things down.

Much will await detailed plans and the time-frames they anticipate, and the extent they intend to move staff and research projects.*

Thoughts welcome in the comments below.

Footnotes

Initial comment from DairyNZ is also available.

* Shifting experimental work can be a major effort. (By contrast, my own line of work—computational biology—can readily be moved on fairly short notice and can be done from pretty much anywhere with good internet access.)

Update

I found on the Beehive website a PDF file of the concept drawing for the hub. If you want details, you’re best to explore the PDF, as you can zoom in, but I’ve placed a few image below to give readers some idea of the layout. This will, naturally, make more sense to locals or people who have visited Lincoln. The bottom left is Lincoln University. To the top-right is the Plant and Food campus. To the right of Lincoln University is the township centre. The green line is a cycle path. You’ll note there is ‘medium density housing’ planned as part of the hub (between the academic core part and the supermarket). I may add more images later, but readers are best to view the PDF if they wish to explore.

AgR-Lincoln-Hub-Medium-Overview-640px

I’ve zoomed into the central part of the hub here:

AgR-Lincoln-Hub-Medium-Core-640px


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9 Responses to “Ag Science hub to form near Christchurch, New Zealand”

  • I’d love to hear from AgResearch scientists on this (or people from the other four institutions named) — presuming that they feel they can speak freely. (I know many CRI scientists say they feel they can’t speak freely on issues related to their work.)

  • Local media here have said that the Upper Hutt, Kaitoke farm is about to be sold to the Wellington Regional Council to be turned into water storage lakes.

    Wallaceville likley to go under the hammer…..or try too….again. I wonder what HAS been buried around that place over the last 100 years?

  • It would be good to know more details about the closures they refer to, what’s happening to the staff and so on.

    I was a summer student at Wallaceville many years ago. Have to admit I’m not quite sure what you reference to things buried there might mean! (Other than the age of the site.)

  • There’s a legend that bottles of excess and unwanted chemicals at Wallaceville were disposed of by throwing them into pit where they smashed against a concrete block. No idea of whether that was routine, or perhaps just something that happened in the early 1970s.

  • A Christchurch Press editorial, Boost for Lincoln, suggests that Lincoln University ought to focus it’s aims on Ag, rather than broadening it’s courses to include other areas.

    Warwick Harris of Akaroa wrote to Letters to the Editor in response to this editorial in the Saturday paper questioning the willingness of universities to “pass over the primary supervision of [their graduate students] to experienced scientists in research institutes” saying that his “experience has been that New Zealand Universities are jealously possessive of their postgraduate students.” He also, tongue-in-cheek suggested an acronym for a collective institute: LAST (Lincoln Academic of Science and Technology). [Just reporting this, not saying I agree!]

    For myself, I’d like to see how closures, shifts of focus, etc., in other bases will affect the local research and wider economy there. While politicians and CEOs can promote the gains, they’ll have to also factor in the loses elsewhere. For example, what impact would a reduction of staff (presuming one is intended) at the Invermay campus have on the Dunedin research scene? How do staff feel about moving, relocating their families, etc.? I’d like to see the details on the larger plan, not just the Lincoln aspects.

    I have to admit I would like to have seen some discussion here. But never mind. (Perhaps staff are reluctant to comment – ?)