People are the key to success of any organisation.

So, like our founders, our staff are leaders in their fields.

Their guidance, expertise and translational research across various fields, will act as the foundation for PlantTech to harness the horticulture sector’s existing skills, knowledge and resources and develop its reputation as a global leader in agtech research and development.

Take a read to get to know them better:


PlantTech CEO – Dr Mark Begbie

Dr Mark Begbie heads PlantTech as CEO, following a career in Scotland spanning commercial and academic R&D in Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS), optics and IoT.

He joins the research institute after spending the last 5 years as business development director at CENSIS, one of Scotland’s innovation centres, focusing on improving the coupling between the research base and sustainable social economic benefit.

Prior to CENSIS were senior roles in design and product engineering of new MEMS products and capabilities for the optical telecommunications sector and CEO at the Institute for System Level Integration (ISLI).

At ISLI he delivered innovation support and new capabilities for the emerging UK MEMS sector through the integration of wireless and MEMS streams, alongside electronic systems.

His vast business experience in tackling the challenges of realising new technologies in commercial environments is backed by academic, scientific and technical qualifications.

Dr Begbie has a Bachelor of Science – Physics & Electronics from the University of St Andrews and a PhD in Applied Optics (Optical Computing) from the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Ian Yule

Ian Yule is the Research Director for PlantTech Research, he is an experienced leading researcher with a strong track record of working in higher education conducting industry relevant research and commercialisation. Skilled in Precision Agriculture and Agritech, Ian has spent the bulk of his recent career working on contract research in the areas of precision agriculture, agri-technology and remote sensing; with a particular focus on hyperspectral imaging and image analysis.

Ian has a strong commercial history.  He is co-founder of Hyperceptions, a data processing company analysing aerial hyperspectral imaging data to deliver agricultural insights. Ian is also the founder of Stoneleigh Consulting, which operates both within New Zealand and internationally. They offer technical assistance and consultancy in the areas of Agritech, precision agriculture, agricultural development and technology.

Strong education professional with a BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD focused in Agricultural Engineering from University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the IAgrE, President the International Society of Precision Agriculture.

James Buwalda

James Buwalda joins the PlantTech Board as its Chairman.

James has considerable experience in governing collaborative ventures, particularly for organisations making significant investments in innovation and capability development.  This is demonstrated by the chairman roles he holds with New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, the Better Border Biosecurity research collaboration, and the OSPRI Stakeholders’ Council.  These roles include a strong focus on primary industries, environmental issues, sector strategy and organisational development. 

James strengths lie in strategy, particularly facilitating multi-organisation commitments to long-term, sector-driven nationally significant objectives. 

He’s also had extensive senior experience in New Zealand Government including 11 years in chief executive roles for New Zealand’s Department of Labour (2003-2007) and Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (1996-2003).  He is a graduate of Lincoln University, earned his PhD (in plant physiology) at the University of London and, earlier in his career, he was a scientist with MAF and then HortResearch.

James lives in Hawke’s Bay, and has family connections in the Bay of Plenty. He is a trustee for the Hawke’s Bay Biodiversity Foundation, and enjoys cycling in his spare time.


The best science is performed by collaboration of researchers with different expertise. 

PlantTech proudly calls on the following Professors who will help strengthen PlantTech’s ability to unite areas of the industry to offer the best opportunity to gain the critical mass required to take on global markets and big players in Agtech around the world.

Professor Mike Duke

Professor Mike Duke believes we are at the start of a revolution in digital agriculture and that New Zealand is ideally placed to be a global leader.

What’s more, he is confident PlantTech will help innovative New Zealand agricultural companies, and develop world-beating products, through a strong focus on applied research.

Which is why we are pleased to have the current Dr John Gallagher Chair in Engineering at the University of Waikato, and head of the Waikato Robotics Automation and Sensing (WaiRAS) research group, specialising in agricultural robotics, as a PlantTech Advisor.

Professor Duke is no stranger to PlantTech’s vision, having previously worked with one of our shareholders, Robotics Plus.

Professor Duke and Robotics Plus founder and chief technology officer Dr Alistair Scarfe supervised Waikato engineering students as they worked on the functionality of robotic attachments to the Autonomous Mobile Multi-Purpose Platform (AMMP) in 2017.

Professor Joerg Kistler        

Professor Joerg is a Venture Partner of BioPacific Partners, an Auckland-based consultancy that works with research and evaluation teams of global corporates to find relevant innovations in universities, research institutes and companies across health, food and agriculture. Professor Kistler is also a leading voice in molecular ophthalmology.

Educated in Switzerland with degrees from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and University of Basel, Professor Kistler joined the University of Auckland in 1984 and was appointed to a Personal Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology in 1999.  

His molecular ophthalmology research lead to more than 100 published articles and was recognised with his election as Fellow of the Royal Society New Zealand (FRSNZ) in 1997.  

Director of the School of Biological Sciences from 2001-2010, he was also the founding Director of the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology, which supports the growth of the bio-industry through the co-location of companies in academic research facilities and through business postgraduate programmes for scientists (Master in Bioscience Enterprise).

In 2013 Professor Kistler retired from the University of Auckland after 30 years of service (now Professor Emeritus).

He divides his time between New Zealand and Europe where he represents BioPacific Partners in the UK and mainland Europe.

Professor Gillian Dobbie 

Computer scientist Gillian Dobbie is a PlantTech Science Advisory Committee member with a passion for getting the most out of data.

A Professor at the University of Auckland and the Director of the Auckland ICT Graduate School, her main research interests are big data, stream data mining, keyword queries, and data management and software engineering – how data can be processed efficiently, and the insights we can gain from it.

Gillian has a PhD from the University of Melbourne, and an M.Tech.(Hons) and B.Tech.(Hons) in Computer Science from Massey University. She has published more than 115 peer-reviewed research papers, and served as a reviewer for numerous conferences and journals.

She has been a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and is on the advisory board of the Victoria University of Wellington for its Engineering programme. 

She convenes the Mathematical and Information Sciences panel for the Marsden Fund.

Professor Geoff Holmes

As head of the University of Waikato’s Machine Learning project for more than a decade, Professor Geoff Holmes has helped put New Zealand on the map with far-reaching global influence on developments in the field.

The project’s reputation has principally been built on the open-source Weka software, one of the most widely used machine learning tools in the world today – winning the SIGKDD Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery Service Award in 2005.

Professor Holmes, Dean of the Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Waikato, has also been responsible for the development of a platform for processing very large (possibly infinite) datasets MOA (Massive Online Analysis).

He has attracted major funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.

Now concentrating his efforts on the application of Machine Learning to agricultural domains, he joins PlantTech as an advisor. He has also become interested in the concept of knowledge discovery in databases.

Aside from software, Professor Holmes has made contributions to the major conferences in machine learning and data mining (more than 120 academic publications). He is currently working on a book describing the techniques contained in the MOA software.