NZ Farmers Weekly | Lincoln Hub plans gain momentum

Graham Stuart, a former Fonterra senior executive, has moved into a new field of agribusiness and science as the hub’s first chairman.

Stuart was most recently chief executive of Sealord and has also for the Dairy Board and Lion Nathan.

The hub’s foundation members are the State-run AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, and Landcare Research, and private partners Lincoln University and DairyNZ.

AgResearch is the country’s largest Crown research institute (CRI) and has a plan, called Future Footprint, to spend $100 million consolidating staff and equipment at Lincoln and Grasslands, in Palmerston North.

Much of that investment would come from the sale of surplus research farms and the hub partners are essentially coat-tailing AgResearch’s development.

AgResearch predicts that during the next three to four years about 280 roles will shift to Grasslands and Lincoln as facilities become available.

Lincoln is expected to soak up more than 200 of those positions.

The science at Grasslands – branded FoodHQ – would be about food, nutrition, animal health and forage, while Lincoln Hub would target farm systems and land use, as well as sheep, beef, and deer productivity.

Robinson said AgResearch represented a large proportion of the hub’s research and development expertise but it had no interest in dominating the venture.

Stuart and his board would be busy encouraging a variety of private companies and industry groups to join.

Talks until now had been casual but there would hopefully be interest from groups like the Foundation for Arable Research, Beef + Lamb NZ, and PGG Wrightson, he said.

Robinson didn’t see the appointment of a hub project manager and chairman as a fait accompli for jobs and facilities on the line at Invermay, in Otago, and Ruakura, in Waikato.

Ruakura will lose about 180 roles and Invermay about 85 as part of the Lincoln and Grasslands expansions.

Invermay supporters doubt the site has a strong future under AgResearch’s plan for it to focus on regional farm systems and environmental issues.

The centre with a reputation for excellence in genomics and deer research has been part of regional plea for the Government to do more for the Otago economy.

Robinson attributed the southern outcry partly to high-profile job cuts in Otago, including KiwiRail’s Hillside workshop in south Dunedin.

AgResearch was maintaining its promised contact with Invermay supporters and while not ruling out late changes he said AgResearch’s hub plans remained on track.

The composition of the hub board was expected to be finalised soon, after consultation with the hub partners, he said.

AgResearch had also appointed Christchurch-based The Project Office to deliver the campus changes.

– Tim Fulton, NZ Farmers Weekly

Katie Browning