New research facility to grow technology exports

Cucumber’s Ian Gray, PlantTech innovation manager Shane Stuart, Trimax’s Michael Sievwright, Cucumber’s Tim King and Blue Lab’s Jono Jones are all involved in the new researched institute in Tauranga.

Bay of Plenty will benefit from a new multi-million dollar research institute set to open its doors in July 2018.

PlantTech aims to leverage the Bay of Plenty’s strengths in horticulture to accelerate and commercialise research and innovation for the benefit of the region and New Zealand.

“We aim to grow technology exports and knowledge intensive jobs in technology for horticulture, by enabling companies better access to world class expertise,” says PlantTech innovation manager Shane Stuart.

PlantTech’s research will focus on three areas: data analytics, automated devices, and vehicles and mobile decision support.

“Our overall focus is really on developing artificial intelligence to support growers in the orchard, greenhouse or out in the field,” says Shane.

One of the founding investors in PlantTech is Bluelab, an exporter of pH metres and controllers. Bluelab head of innovation Jono Jones, says: “The vision of PlantTech is perfectly aligned to our innovation needs and pipeline. Having access to this capability will hugely accelerate our growth path on a global stage”.

another of PlantTech’s founding companies is Zespri. Chief Innovation and sustainability officer Carol Ward says to compete in the technology space the kiwifruit sector needs new capabilities, as well as more traditional research partners.

“The PlantTech concept offers an innovative way to grow these capabilities, and to work together with new and existing partners, to develop and commercialise technologies for the kiwifruit sector,” says Carol.

Michael Sievwright, chief executive of Trimax, which exports largescale mowing systems, says the intellectual property and technologies developed as part of PlantTech will help his company innovate and grow competitive advantage globally.

Nigel Tutt of Bay of Plenty economic development agency, Priority One, which co-ordinated the consortium of companies behind PlantTech, says small to medium enterprises struggle to get their hands on high quality research and development – and PlantTech will help these growers.

PlantTech brings together a mix of eight technology companies, exporters and multi-nationals, as well as the University of Waikato and Priority One, which made a successful application to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Regional Research Institute fund.

PlantTech is the fourth successful proposal to receive funding through MBIE’s initiative to establish new regional research institutes and will receive $8.4 million in start-up funding during the next five years.

Private funding is expected to make up 80 per cent of the institute’s funding within 10 years, and PlantTech projects it will grow from the eight original members to 20 members by 2027.

The institute will operate as a private, independently-governed organisation, and recruitment is underway for a chief executive and three research directors. The institute is expected to have eight-10 full-time staff.



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