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CSIRO changes at Merbein shock Murray Valley Winegrowers

Murray Valley Winegrowers has reacted with shock and surprise to news of the closing of the CSIRO research facility at Merbein.

CSIRO advised industry it is looking to consolidate its wine research at its Adelaide site in a move it says will create an opportunity to provide a critical mass of scientists and resources there.

This is in light of the recent federal budget allocation of funding to CSIRO and CSIRO's research direction setting process, the Science Investment Process (SIP), which has resulted in CSIRO deciding to close its Merbein site.

"Our staff at Merbein are greatly valued by CSIRO and have produced significant research outcomes for the horticultural and viticultural industries," says the Chief of CSIRO Plant Industry, Dr Jeremy Burdon.

"We have had to make this tough decision to close our Merbein site largely because of the budget shortfalls and the need to re-evaluate all CSIRO properties and sites to accommodate this change."

It is estimated that 30 staff will be directly affected by the Merbein site closure.

Murray Valley Winegrowers CEO, Mike Stone, said the CSIRO scientists attached to the Merbein complex are among the most experienced and knowledgeable in the world. “We want to know whether their work will continue and in what form,” he said.

Stone says the Murray Valley NSW/VIC wine regions of Murray-Darling and Swan Hill are responsible for a quarter of Australia’s production and every year provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in research levies.

“All winegrape growers pay $2/tonne to the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) and the CSIRO is a major provider of research services to the GWRDC, with growers ultimately being the beneficiaries.

“Growers therefore have a stake in the future of the CSIRO and want a full explanation on the ramifications of the cost-cutting measures forced on the organisation by cuts to its budget.”

Doctor Burden explained staff at Merbein had been advised of the site's closure and would be supported through the change.

“Our staff are our most important asset and we want to maintain as many of them as we can," he said.

"It is expected that most of staff will be invited to relocate to Adelaide or elsewhere, some may be maintained in Merbein to manage remaining facilities and some may be offered redundancies."

CSIRO has a well established and robust process for the review and prioritisation of investments in research and support programs — the Science Investment Process (SIP).

The SIP provides a rigorous and systematic approach for prioritising research investments across CSIRO ensuring that skills and resources are built and focused on the most important issues for Australia.

"As part of the Science Investment Process it has been decided that our leading wine research program will be relocated to our Adelaide site, but we will unfortunately have to scale back our horticultural crop research at Merbein," Dr Burdon says.

"Our Adelaide laboratories already undertake wine research. We will consolidate all our wine research there to provide a critical mass of scientists and resources to better deliver research outcomes to the viticulture industry.

"It is with great regret that CSIRO announces the closure of its Merbein facility, but in light of the budget shortfalls, and CSIRO's Science Investment Process that sets the research direction for the organisation, there were no other alternatives," he says.

Murray Valley Winegrowers (MVW) wants more information on the ramifications of the shock scaling down of CSIRO operations in Mildura.

“The CSIRO has a long history of involvement in the regional winegrape industry, developing new varieties and conducting research into rootstocks and vine performance, particularly under the stress conditions brought on by climate change and drought,” MVW CEO Mike Stone says.

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