The pesticides authority has convinced only 12 Canberra-based staff to move with it to Armidale, bringing the redundancy bill for public servants refusing to relocate up to $2.4 million.
Forty ACT-based staff received voluntary redundancy payments from $25 million funding the move, and nine staff members were redeployed to other agencies, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said.
Nearly 130 staff are working from its offices in the New England town after the authority marked the end of its relocation by opening its new building last week.
Newly-released documents also show the majority of 146 agency staff surveyed before its move said they would likely take a voluntary redundancy rather than follow it north.
The agency said this week despite the turnover of staff after the Coalition government's 2016 decision to move it to Armidale, experience levels among its new regulatory scientists were similar to those who left.
Pesticides industry peak body CropLife said despite the "pain" involved in the agency's relocation, it had recruited well and its performance had recovered.
CropLife's chief executive Matthew Cossey said the industry had been concerned the move would bring a massive loss of staff.
"That is what came to bear. Ideally, more of the existing staff being able to stay with the agency would've been good, and probably would've minimised disruption," he said.
The disruption brought by the move had flow-on effects in the pesticides industry and the farmers that bought its new products, Mr Cossey said.
Pesticides authority chief executive Chris Parker's decision to keep some staff in Canberra was "critical" in stopping the agency losing more experience, he said.
"Any organisation that has a loss of staff of that magnitude, over that period of time, will have challenges," he said.
"Credit where credit is due, in challenging circumstances they've recruited and have recruited by all accounts extraordinarily well."
A 2017 report from the national auditor found the agency had failed to consider the risk staff would resign over its controversial move to Armidale and was unprepared to manage the problem.
Dr Parker, appointed only a month before the report, identified retaining staff and managing departures a key business risk for the authority and decided to keep 40 staff in Canberra.
The agency this week said it also mitigated disruption through a learning and development program, and by using external scientific expertise when needed.
It retained the corporate knowledge of departing staff by digitising thousands of files, a spokesman said.
Asked whether the move had been worth the cost and turbulence, Mr Cossey said he would leave it to others to comment.
Long-term success would depend on a "centre of excellence" based at the University of New England emerging near the pesticides authority, as the government earlier planned, he said.
Credit where credit is due, in challenging circumstances they've recruited and have recruited by all accounts extraordinarily well.Matthew Cossey
"Irrespective of your view of the decision to relocate itself, we've got to commend the personnel at the APVMA for transitioning and getting through it."
Documents released under freedom of information laws show 39 per cent of staff said in February 2018 they were interested in taking a voluntary redundancy package, and 18 per cent flagged they were highly likely to accept one.
More than 70 per cent of staff said they wouldn't move from Canberra to Armidale. Only 38 of the public servants surveyed said they were likely or highly likely to follow it north.
Twenty regulatory scientists and an additional 28 staff members, with 204 years' service between them, left the agency between July 2016 and February 2017.
Approvals for new products meeting deadlines plummeted to 42 per cent in March 2017 after the decision to relocate the agency.
Its performance has recovered, and since the March quarter last year, the number has been steady at about 80 per cent. The APVMA said it had consistently improved its timeframe performance since late 2017.
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Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce spearheaded the authority's relocation to his New England electorate, saying it would bring 175 jobs to Armidale and attract others to the region.
He admitted in 2016 some staff were apprehensive about moving nearly 800 kilometres away, but also said that moving for work was normal.
"We're not asking people to move to Kathmandu or Timbuktu," he said.
"When they started moving departments to Canberra, Canberra wasn't there.
"This will be a good move and also great for families."
At the opening last week, he told an audience how he had thanked The Canberra Times for its coverage of the relocation with "glee", because it was advertising for him.
Pesticides authority staff are working in its Armidale building after construction finished ahead of schedule in late May.
More than half of the APVMA's 90 regulatory scientists are based in Armidale.
The authority's lease on its Symonston office is due to expire in October 2020.