AgScience Newsletter July 2024

NZIAHS Fellow is honoured

Congratulations to Vincent Ashworth who received a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the King’s Birthday Honours List for services to agriculture.

Vincent has contributed to agriculture in New Zealand and internationally since 1970.
He is a Fellow of The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science and has been a member for 42 years.
‘As a Senior Agriculturalist with the World Bank, Mr Ashworth led missions to help farmers with food production in more than 30 developing countries. Notably, he did major work to improve farming practices for countries with harsh environments for agriculture, including Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia.
Recognising the lack of support for farmers on best practice farming, he established Ashworth and Associates in 1960, a farm management consultancy practice, the first of its kind in New Zealand. He led international work through the consultancy to Afghanistan and Western Samoa.
Following his consultancy success, he launched the New Zealand Society of Farm Management in 1969, serving as inaugural President, with thousands of farmers benefitting from research findings to improve their practices.
He is a published author of six books since 2009 and has been recognised with two medals from Lincoln University for his contributions to agricultural consultancy and the university’s cultural heritage. He was a member of Save the Children New Zealand Overseas Projects Committee from 1978 to 1988, serving as Chair for three years. Mr Ashworth is a Life Member of the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management.

Review of the public research system

Not all of us have the opportunity – or perhaps is it desire? – to carve out a career in creating and/or implementing ag and hort science and technology of such longevity as Vincent.

However, the career opportunity to work in an area for sufficient time to develop skills and expertise is one of the identified aspects to the current all-encompassing review of the public research system in New Zealand.

The review of the public research system – largely CRIs and universities – is being undertaken by two expert panels, the University Advisory Group (www.uag.org.nz) and the Science System Advisory Group (www.SSAG.org.nz). Both panels are being led by Sir Peter Gluckman. Each panel has a specific focus on the shape or architecture of the specific sector, along with all elements within it; and in addition, the inter-relationship between the universities and CRIs. The panels are taking a phased approach, with an interim report due shortly and the final report completed by the end of the year.

The government has also signalled that tinkering around the edges of the current system is unlikely to deliver the desired result and that fundamental change is required. The government’s stated desired result is a thriving science, innovation and technology system that delivers growth for New Zealand’s economy, environment and society.

Ag and hort science is a significant contributor to all three of these growth goals.

The CRIs have remained largely of the same format as when set up in 1991.

Time since inception is not in itself an impediment to being successful, although a lack of evolution may be seen as at least in part being responsible for the public research system currently being viewed as ‘fragmented with poor visibility of the effectiveness of current investments, and suffers from duplication, inefficiency, and poor use of resources.’

The SSAG will review both the overall sector (purpose and role), the system (structure, form and organisational) and fiscal and policy aspects. This includes funding, research structure, regulatory frameworks, system inefficiencies and fragmentation, workforce, competition, industry and international partnerships.

The current universities are largely the product of the breakup of the University of New Zealand in 1961, when the constituent colleges became institutions in their own right.

The effectiveness of the current university system is under review by the UAG covering areas including the excellence of teaching and research, and producing graduates for the benefit of NZ, including through collaborations and partnerships.

Is this where the Universities are going wrong? – simply looking at the financial bottom line rather than the more complex description of effectiveness described above, with good outcomes for the student, university and country? Losing science staff, or cutting university science courses, should be seen as a last resort rather than what appears to currently be the first go to option.

Perhaps it is good to remind people that investment in ag and hort science has historically been good for ‘New Zealand Inc.’ This was determined for the period 1927-2001 over which a 17% return on investment was estimated (Treasury Working Paper by Julia Hall and Grant M Scobie, titled ‘The Role of R&D in Productivity Growth: The Case of Agriculture in New Zealand: 1927 to 2001’).

I wonder how the last 20 years would look – or maybe I missed that analysis?

The research environment has totally changed, even within the last 20 years, let alone compared to the early-mid 20th century. To that end, a degree of evolution within the public research sector might have been expected.

The current financial status of the country, with cuts being made across the board, means that simply asking for more money to put into the same system may not get far. Getting more actual science done for the same overall science spend is always going to be a challenge.

However, is it matter of how you view the spend – in regarding the spend as an investment rather than cost – doesn’t that lead to a strong case for greater investment for greater delivery alongside a revised public science system as a means to stimulate the primary sector?

China has shown what can be achieved when funding for workforce and facilities for both basic and especially applied science is increased markedly year on year for a decade, particular with a focus on agricultural science with an eye on food security (China has become a scientific superpower (economist.com). However, increasing scientific publications is not the full story – or goal in itself.

Having said the above, governments of all shades in recent years have failed miserably to increase the overall spend on science to the oft-quoted target of 2% of GDP (never mind the OECD average of 2.7%).

Change or evolution should not be feared – especially if the current system is flawed. There is no point simply throwing more money into a bottomless pit! However, it is easy to say that we want robust long-term funding and resourcing – no-one would argue – but how to achieve this is what we may see signs towards from the soon to be released interim reports of the UAG and SSAG panels.

 

 

 

Jeremy Burdon
NZIAHS President

 


 NZIAHS Canterbury Forum  “Nitrogen – Friend or Foe?”
to be held in Stewart 1, Lincoln University on Wednesday 23rd October 2024.
Programme and online registration:
https://agscience.org.nz/event/2024-canterbury-forum-nitrogen-friend-or-foe/

                  NZIAHS Annual General Meeting
Wednesday 23rd October 2024 at 3.30pm  – Stewart 1, Lincoln University, Lincoln


International ISHS conferences in New Zealand
2024 & 2025

Three conferences being run together in Rotorua 11-15 November 2024:

IX International Postharvest Symposium
https://www.scienceevents.co.nz/postharvest2024

VII International Symposium on Postharvest Pathology
https://www.scienceevents.co.nz/postharvest2024

X International Symposium on Human Health Effects of Fruits and Vegetables
https://www.scienceevents.co.nz/postharvest2024


(XIII International Symposium on Integrating Canopy,
Rootstock and Environmental Physiology in Orchard Systems 2025)

19-24 January 2025
Venue:  War Memorial Centre, Napier

https://www.scienceevents.co.nz/orchard-systems