A crop-spraying product that reduces spray drift by more than 80 per cent can help to produce more food, for less.
With the world’s population estimated to grow to nine billion people by 2050, the demand for food and water is increasing dramatically.
That means farmers and producers need to find more sustainable methods to grow food, to maximise their scarce resources and to make their production systems more effective.
MagGrow, a spinout from University College Dublin, hopes to meet this challenge by supplying its pioneering magnetic spraying technology to farmers and food producers worldwide.
“We have to find better, more sustainable ways to grow and this is where MagGrow fits in,” says its Chief Executive Gary Wickham.
Conventional crop spraying struggles to control ‘drift’ – that’s the level of spray which fails to adequately cover plants because of wind and a general lack of precision.
Conventional spraying revolves around large droplets of liquid – but these large droplets don’t ensure good plant deposition or coverage, both of which are critical for effective disease control.
The MagGrow system uses fine droplets that deliver better coverage while, crucially, also controlling drift.
The MagGrow technology is based around attaching magnetic inserts onto a sprayer which sends an electromagnetic charge into a sprayed pesticide.
Wickham says: “All living plants have a positive and negative charge magnetic field so the electro-magnetically charged liquid is attracted to its target.”
Benefits of the technology include: reduced chemical waste, reduced water usage, increased productivity and profitability, extended spray windows and better environmental performance.
MagGrow is aimed at commercial arable farmers, horticultural producers worldwide and also at smaller enterprises.
“Our internationally patented technology is also simple, user friendly and has no moving parts,”
MagGrow was established in 2013 by Wickham and business consultant David Moore.
Three years on, and the firm is on the fast-track to success; it has raised over €5.5 million to date and won a place on the prestigious international THRIVE Accelerator Programme for sustainability at the Forbes Ag Tech summit in California. It also won THRIVE’s award for sustainability and artificial intelligence.
The accelerator is run by investment company, SVG Partners, and open to the world’s most innovative companies in the Food and AgTech space.
The company also won the Innovation award at LAMMA ’16, the UK’s Leading Farm Machinery, Equipment and Services Show.
Both Wickham and Moore have entrepreneurial backgrounds with the experience of launching successful previous start-ups behind them.
Based at NovaUCD, the university’s centre for new technology ventures, MagGrow employs 20 people and has plans to recruit another 60 over the next six to nine months.
The idea for MagGrow came from a chance meeting in the US with Ted Lenhardt, an inventor and technical specialist with over 40 years’ experience in agriculture.
“Ted had a very innovative idea for crop spraying,” says Wickham, who saw the potential in Lenhardt’s idea.
This led to the technology being developed and commercialised in Ireland at a cost of around €3 million.
The system can be retro-fitted to existing large crop sprayers or used with a backpack in greenhouses or by small farm holders.
The product is currently being launched in Ethiopia and Kenya and will launch in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands later this year. The US is also a major target market for the product with an anticipated launch date of Q3, 2016.
The chance to play a role in the journey to a more sustainable future is why Wickham and the MagGrow team are so passionate about their business.
And with the launch of Sustainable Nation Ireland, Wickham sees Ireland as a key player on the global stage in the coming years.
“We are known throughout the world for our highly educated and skilled people. We are also the base for some of the leading companies in areas such as pharmaceuticals, computing, software and social media. So why not sustainability?”