Organisation - June 27, 2013

Substantial drop in revenues for plant research at DLO

The demise of the product marketing boards will cost Wageningen millions.
Consequences for jobs not yet clear.

The government's decision to discontinue the product marketing boards will probably have significant repercussions for the Plant Sciences Group, it seems from internal memos. The product marketing boards sourced about ten million euros' worth of research in 2012 to Plant Research International and Applied Plant Research, which jointly make up the DLO part of the Plant Sciences Group. The disappearance of the product marketing boards means that those orders will be lost in future years.  
The director, Ernst van den Ende, expects turnover to go down by four million euros in 2014; the situation after that is unclear. A worst-case scenario could lead to 120 fewer jobs in the coming years. But a great deal is still uncertain. The work from the product marketing boards comes partly through the 'top sectors' that the government helps to finance. If private investment by the product marketing boards goes, will the contribution from the Ministry of Economic Affairs evaporate too? 'It looks like that will be OK,' says Van den Ende, 'but it's not certain yet.' New orders may come in from the successors to the product marketing boards, if arable farmers and market gardeners decide to invest together in knowledge development. Additional governmental cutbacks to be announced in September could work out badly for the sciences group, though. 'There's a great deal of uncertainty,' says the director, 'and the situation changes every week.'
New markets
Because of that uncertainty, Van den Ende does not want to announce a reorganization: there is simply no way of predicting how many jobs may have to go. He would like to resolve the disparity between market demand and staffing levels 'on the fly' through new markets and more contract acquisition. He also wants to replace as few as possible of the staff who will be leaving over the next few years as part of natural wastage (50 FTEs). In addition, the sciences group will be saving one million euros on accommodation costs by putting more researchers together in shared offices.
The Plant Sciences Group's employees' council has been asked for its input. Its chairman Pieter van de Sanden says that they have not yet adopted a formal position. He also sees disadvantages to a formal reorganization, in which the youngest and newest employees generally suffer the most. The board's alternative is to hold individual interviews with the staff to improve employability, or to look for other work.

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