They were dark days, with growers losing their vines, orchards and money.
Today kiwifruit is the biggest horticulture export out of New Zealand and the sector is booming, Carmen Hall reports on innovations in the industry.
Millions of dollars are being pumped into a horticulture research institute in Tauranga which aims to take the agtech sector by storm.
PlantTech will focus on applying cutting edge artificial intelligence and machine learning to the scientific challenges in New Zealand's horticulture industry.
The institute has been welcomed by Zespri which is already leading the world with its innovation and research programme which it spends about $35 million a year on.
PlantTech Research Institute chief executive officer Mark Begbie says 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.
It was working with the University of Waikato and other tertiary partners and has secured an $8.42m start-up fund from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment alongside $1m over three years from the industry.
''The institute will engage the next generation and help equip them for the future of a research-intensive industry. The Bay of Plenty naturally lends itself to being a test bed for research and technology development that could potentially transform plant-based value chains and regional economic performance.''
Leveraging these strengths will allow us to ensure the horticulture industry remains ahead of the inevitable economic, environmental, biosecurity, climate change and crop health challenges that lie ahead, he said.
''Tauranga, as well as offering a fantastic quality of life and work-life balance sits at the epicentre of the Bay horticulture industry.''
PlantTech was established in February 2018 but would officially open later this month.
Zespri chief innovation and sustainability officer Carol Ward said PlantTech would complement its efforts to improve orchard productivity and address environmental and labour challenges.
''PlantTech is a collaboration between different organisations in the Bay of Plenty which have come together to bring new digital technologies into plant production. We're very excited about the disruptive opportunities to help develop new agricultural technology, and better utilise existing ones, to build data-led decision-making into orchard management, improving productivity.
''The new Regional Research Programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, will help transform plant-based value chains, and improve regional economic performance.''
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said it was good Tauranga was at the forefront of new technology.
''Anything that makes our industries and businesses more efficient and productive is great. It is probably stuff that we can't even imagine that is being developed as we speak.''
About Plant Tech
• The partners are Bluelab, Cucumber, GPS-It, Eurofins, Robotics Plus Ltd, Trimax Mowing Systems, Waka Digital, Zespri International, the University of Waikato and Priority One.
• Currently recruiting for up to six researchers.
• By 2023 we aim to have a staff of about 18, with the additional roles all being technical in nature.
• Thursday, May 23 at The Stadium Lounge at Trustpower Baypark.
• Will coincide with National Techweek'19 Festival.
• Free entry open to the public from 12.30pm-3.30pm.
• Dr Megan Woods will officially launch the research.