The ribbon has finally been cut for the multimillion-dollar horticulture research institute PlantTech.

Trustpower Baypark Stadium lounge was packed out with industry representatives for the launch today which fell in TechWeek Tauranga, a week of science and innovation events held in the area from May 20 to 26.

PlantTech will focus on applying cutting edge artificial intelligence and machine learning to the scientific challenges in New Zealand's horticulture industry.

The crowd at the PlantTech launch. Photo / Andrew Warner
The crowd at the PlantTech launch. Photo / Andrew Warner

PlantTech Research Institute chief executive officer Mark Begbie was the opening speaker after a mihi and spoke of the need for innovation and collaboration in the industry.

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In closing, he referred to the old saying that you can give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

"PlantTech is not here to cook your dinner, but we are here to help you create new and intelligent types of fishing gear."

Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said the launch of the new institute had been smooth, a testament to the "can-do attitude" of all those involved.

He said there was no doubt that PlantTech would bring economic benefit to both the regional industry and New Zealand as a whole.

Minister for Science and Innovation Dr Megan Wood (left) and PlantTech Research Institute chief executive officer Mark Begbie. Photo / Andrew Warner
Minister for Science and Innovation Dr Megan Wood (left) and PlantTech Research Institute chief executive officer Mark Begbie. Photo / Andrew Warner

Minister for Science and Innovation Dr Megan Wood closed the speeches and told the crowd she was "absolutely delighted" to officially launch PlantTech.

She said the Bay of Plenty was a "regional powerhouse" and stood as the region with the fifth biggest GDP in the country and the second biggest growth.

Dr Wood said it was exciting to see a growing appreciation for science and innovation in the Bay of Plenty.

She said artificial intelligence would help the industry stay ahead of shared challenges, such as labour shortages and climate change.

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National Party leader Simon Bridges was among those in attendance. He said it was a pleasure to see the research and innovation institute launched.

It was past research and innovation that helped the "humble kiwifruit" catch a pretty price in overseas markets, he said.

PlantTech chief executive Mark Begbie speaks with opposition leader Simon Bridges. Photo / Andrew Warner
PlantTech chief executive Mark Begbie speaks with opposition leader Simon Bridges. Photo / Andrew Warner

Begbie previously told the Bay of Plenty Times the institute wants to leverage the Western Bay of Plenty's strengths in plant-based value chains, robotics and autonomous systems to ensure the horticulture industry stayed ahead of the game.

PlantTech worked with the University of Waikato and other tertiary partners and secured $8.42m start-up fund from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment alongside $1m over three years from the industry.

The institute was welcomed by Zespri, with the kiwifruit giant already spending around $35 million a year on innovation and research.

Zespri chief innovation and sustainability officer Carol Ward previously said PlantTech would complement its efforts to improve orchard productivity and address environmental and labour challenges.

The institute was established in February 2018.


About Plant Tech
• Partners include Bluelab, Cucumber, GPS-It, Eurofins, Robotics Plus Ltd, Trimax Mowing Systems, Waka Digital, Zespri International, the University of Waikato and Priority One.
• PlantTech was currently recruiting for up to six researchers.
• By 2023, PlantTech aimed to have about 18 staff, with the additional roles all being technical in nature.