A new multimillion-dollar horticulture-focused regional research institute plans to be operational in Tauranga during the second half of this year.
Last July the Government announced it would provide $8.42 million in funding towards the institute over five years with additional funding from the industry.
The business case was put forward by Priority One – Western Bay’s economic development agency – alongside the University of Waikato and a consortium of eight local companies with the working name PlantTech.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt told the Bay of Plenty Times the regional research institutes were designed to bring research and science closer to local industries.
“So far we have made good progress setting the research institute up – it’s the only institute of its kind in New Zealand that has a consortium of local businesses behind it, as well as government funding.”
Tutt said PlantTech was recruiting two positions on the inaugural board of directors, as well as the chief executive and research directors.
The institute will be in Tauranga and will have a permanent staff of about 10. They will be scientists and researchers.
It will produce cutting-edge research around the application of digital technologies to industries in and around horticulture, ranging from sensors and data to automation.
The organisation’s key research themes are in data integration and analytics, autonomous devices and vehicles, and point-of-use decision support tools.
Tutt said increasing research and development in Bay of Plenty was hugely important to lift household incomes and for industries to become more innovative.
“This will place us really well to compete as a location for talent and high-value business in the future.”
He said PlantTech will allow local companies to access world-class research that they simply would not be able to access otherwise.
“We expect to significantly increase exports of technologies and services as a result.”
Carol Ward, chief innovation and sustainability officer at Zespri – one of the eight in the consortium – said the company was very excited about PlantTech getting up and running this year.
She said the institute’s key research themes had the potential to develop innovations that could improve productivity in the kiwifruit industry and in other horticultural industries.
Ward said through PlantTech, Zespri had the opportunity to increase collaboration and access different capabilities beyond its traditional research focus.
“This is so important with innovation being increasingly disruptive. To compete in the technology space our sector needs new capabilities and PlantTech, located in the living lab of the Bay of Plenty, offers an innovative way to grow these capabilities.”
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said PlantTech would provide inspiration for young people in the area who, traditionally, if they wanted a science, engineering or technical education, had to look outside the city.
He said if Tauranga could be known as a city where innovation and research takes place, it would attract outside talent in the technical and science fields, and keep home-grown talent here.
“Or at least give them jobs to come back for once they’ve done their studies.”
The institute would obviously also benefit the local horticultural businesses, farms and orchards, Brownless said.
PlantTech was founded by Trimax Mowing Systems, Plus Group Horticulture, Zespri International, Eurofins, Bluelab, Cucumber, GPS-it and Waka Digital, alongside the University of Waikato and Priority One.