News - April 5, 2012

Government lags behind in top sectors

- Private sector gives more cash to top sectors than government.
- Research institutes are disappointed.

The innovation contract signed by Agriculture minister Verhagen on 2 April with the top sector chairmen shows Dutch horticulture and food companies plan to donate 316 million euros to the top sectors this year while the Dutch government will only give 135 million.
The government has less money available than the sector teams are demanding. The original plan was for Verhagen to fund 60 percent of the public-private research projects and the private sector 40 percent. However, businesses have now promised more cash for the top sectors - 1.8 billion in total - while the government only has one billion available. The Horticulture and Agrifood top sectors have been promised twice as much money by the private sector as by the Ministry. In both sectors most of the cash is in existing research expenditure.
It is still not clear what the innovation contracts will mean for projects submitted by Wageningen. What is clear is that the government will spend 51 million euros from the DLO budget on the science groups. But that money has not yet been assigned to projects. This must be done by 1 September. It looks as if Wageningen research in the Top Institute for Food and Nutrition (TIFN), Food and Nutrition Delta, the TTI Green Genetics and the Centre for BioSystems Genomics (CBSG) will be absorbed in larger consortia. The water institute Wetsus gets funding from the Water top sector.
Feeling of dissatisfaction
The general feeling among the managers at the research institutes is one of dissatisfaction. As they see it, everything is still up in the air after eighteen months of discussions about the top sectors. ‘The private sector has embraced the top sectors but the government is incapable of delivering its share of 60 percent', says CBSG director Robert Hall. ‘The companies are disappointed with this. Now they will reassess their expenditure on the top sectors and nobody knows who will be getting what budget.'
Bernard de Geus, the TTI Green Genetics director, is downright dismayed. ‘The government is not delivering on its good intentions. Now we can't develop a long-term research policy as the government has only promised funds for 2012 and 2013.' He is also not sure of the commitments made by the private sector. ‘If the government's matching doesn't materialize, the companies may decide not to allocate that money to the top sectors after all.'
Wageningen food researchers do not need to fear that outcome, as was made clear two weeks ago at the VMT Food Event. Emmo Meijer from the Agrifood top team said then: ‘Our plan was to share the costs, fifty-fifty, but we won't split hairs, we'll just carry on.'