Nieuws - 23 februari 2012

DLO 'cutbacks' still up in the air

With more government cuts in the offing, the bad news about science and innovation in the Netherlands just keeps on coming.

The Rathenau Instituut figured out earlier this month that the government is going to be cutting 400 million in research over the next four years, including 50 million for DLO. The implicit message was that science had already had its fair share of cuts. But might the Rathenau Instituut have exaggerated things in its enthusiasm? Wageningen's Executive Board certainly took offence at an article on the subject in Resource. The spokesperson says DLO cuts of 50 million are ‘rubbish'.
So what is really going on? Broadly speaking, the cabinet is making cuts of 700 million in research. Scrapping the FES scheme (natural gas revenues) in particular will have a big impact, as it is good for annual payments of 500 million to the technological top institutes. But working out the implications for the individual Wageningen organizations is not easy. On paper FES grants paid for about 100 jobs at Green Genetics and 75 at Wetsus, according to VSNU calculations last year, but from now on the top institutes are likely to get their cash from a priority sector. We will know for certain around 1 April.
A complicating factor is the cuts in government funds for DLO. The ministry spends 50 million a year on long-term research programmes at DLO but as of 1 April that money will come from the priority sectors and DLO will be competing with other science institutes. Only then will it be clear whether the DLO applications are good enough and whether the Wageningen business units be able to balance their books.
The ministry's policy departments also have money available for supplementary research projects. That budget has been halved from 100 million to 50 million. Last year DLO got 15 million from this scheme. Do the cuts mean DLO will get less money this year? We don't know, as that depends on the Ministry of Agriculture's priorities. For example, this year CVI got money for research on the Schmallenberg virus. That kind of funding changes every year.
The biggest threat at the moment seems to be the abolition of the product boards. They spend around 15 million euros every year on Wageningen research for the benefit of farmers and market gardeners. The product boards aim to fund some of the innovation contracts in the Agro-food and Horticulture priority sectors. If they are abolished that will probably be the end of this research. But that too is not yet certain.