BOP ‘perfect home’ for research institute

PlantTech CEO Dr Mark Begbie with Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Dr Megan Woods, who officially launched the research institute on May 23.

The Bay of Plenty, a regional powerhouse for horticulture with the fifth largest regional GDP and second highest GDP growth rate, is the perfect home for PlantTech.

This was Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Megan Woods’ message as she opened the new regional research institute at Mount Maunganui late last month.

PlantTech Research Institute, a collaboration between Priority One, the University of Waikato and a consortium of eight local businesses began with a start-up investment of $9.4 million via the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s Regional Research Institute fund and shareholder commitments.

It is a demand-driven, collaborative research organisation, seeking to accelerate innovation and deliver solutions to horticulture challenges through technology.

Around 200 invited guests attended the institute’s official launch on May 23, which included displays by its partners Robotics Plus, Trimax Mowing Systems, Bluelab, Cucumber, GPS-it, Eurofins, Waka Digital, Zespri, University of Waikato and Priority One.

The Minister says PlantTech shareholders’ commitment to research and development investment in the region, the University of Waikato’s new campus in Tauranga, growing GDP and strong export streams created “the perfect environment for an advanced R&D hub, which will continue to drive economic development, high skill jobs, and higher wages for this area and New Zealand”.

“A prosperous, sustainable future for NZ is one which means high-quality jobs for all New Zealanders, higher wages, lower environmental impact, more innovation, and improved wellbeing.

Ahead of challenges

“Science and innovation will help us achieve this vision by generating leading-edge ideas and knowledge that our industry and public services can apply.”

Through robotics, autonomous systems and AI research, PlantTech will ensure the horticulture industry remains ahead of shared challenges such as environmental sustainability, labour shortage, productivity, climate change, and biosecurity,” says Megan.

“This also gives us the chance to become a global leader in supporting customised, precise and automated production systems that are accessible to all scales of business – not only benefiting the NZ horticulture sector, but also impacting global markets with home-grown technologies.

Demand-driven research

PlantTech Research Institute CEO Mark Begbie says PlantTech is NZ’s first demand-driven research and development organisation dedicated to delivering science excellence that will take the horticulture industry to new heights.

“PlantTech strives to leverage the BOP region’s strengths in plant-based value chains and robotics and autonomous systems to ensure the horticulture industry remains ahead of the inevitable economic, environmental, biosecurity, climate change and crop health challenges that lie ahead.

“Focussing on research to enable digital support and automation of devices for growers, including robotics and digital sensing, we strive to become a global leader in supporting customised, precise and automated production systems that are accessible to all scales of business.”

Mark says AI is having a transformational impact on the world, meaning businesses, including those in the agriculture and horticulture sectors, need to adapt quickly as the landscape changes.

“NZ horticulture is a big business with an industry value of $5.6 billion, excluding wine. As a nation, we export 60 per cent of what we grow – $3.4 billion in value – to 124 countries. Exports increased by 40 per cent from June 2014 to 2016.

Horticultural hotbed

“NZ’s agriculture industry is world-renowned for food production and quality. With this as our development environment, and a No.8 wire mindset, there is much we can do to increase our presence in the multi-billion-dollar global agtech industry, and to lead the way in agricultural sustainability,” says Mark.

Priority One CEO Nigel Tutt says it’s appropriate the BOP has become home to PlantTech.

“This burgeoning region is a hotbed for the horticulture and technology industries, and in PlantTech the two have come together to further this growing industry’s global competitiveness.

“There is more than enough opportunity for NZ’s plant-based value chain to prosper in the large global market. PlantTech’s ability to unite areas of the industry will offer the best opportunity to gain the critical mass required to take on global markets and big players in agtech around the world.


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