Can weed-killing Aussie agtech startup Growave cut herbicides out of farming?
Written on the 4 October 2019 by Matt Ogg
With farmers and consumers alike increasingly looking for chemical-free products and foods, a technology developed at the University of Melbourne has the potential to control weeds through an unusual method - microwave energy.
Growave has just received a $900,000 seed investment to work towards commercialising the tech, invented by Dr Graham Brodie (pictured) and supported by the university's Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC).
The funding round was led by UK-based IP Group (LON: IPO) which put up $700,000, and the remaining funds came from alternative investment management company Artesian and the GRDC's innovation spin-off GrainInnovate.
"We've seen some pretty exciting data from glasshouse and field trials of the technology, particularly around energy usage, and we're looking to double down and validate that through additional field trials at customer sites," Growave director Paul Barrett (pictured below) tells Business News Australia.
"With the microwave system it's almost immune to those factors that have plagued herbicides - it can be used in the wind, it can be used in the rain and you don't have to worry about spray drift," says Barrett, who is also head of physical sciences at IP Group.
He says Growave augments existing operations, so for example a farmer can mounted onto a tractor or trailer and run down the rows applying the microwave solution just as they would with a herbicide.
"Dr Graham Brodie had a really novel engineering solution to harness the power of microwaves but distribute them in a very thin area above the soil, dispersing them safely and efficiently to kill the weeds they come into contact with as well as the weed seed bank that's embedded in the soil," says Barrett.
"It's a really nice technology that will hopefully take farming chemical-free which will reduce farming costs, and obviously there are knock-on benefits to the consumer who I think is really looking for chemical-free food products."
The Growave executive adds the technology also saves the labour associated with weed management.
Henotes there are currently three trials planned including on a high-yield strawberry farm, an organic vegetable farm in Southern Queensland's Lockyer Valley, and on the University of Melbourne's farmland in Dookie with several crop types.
"That investment will take the company through that validation piece, and when we've got that validation piece we'll probably invest more money to bring that product to market," he says, noting Growave should be ready for commercialisation in 18 months.
He emphasises no chemicals are used so treated crops and fields do not require isolation.
"It is environmentally friendly and less expensive per hectare than most alternatives," he says.
An additional issue the Growave team will need to address is ensuring the technology is incorporated into organic certification protocols here in Australia and around the globe.
It is one thing for a farmer to say they produce in a way that's free of chemicals, but another issue entirely to achieve the organic certification which often yields a premium in the market.
"We're working pretty hard on that topic, and we've got a trial with an organic farmer in Queensland slated for next year and that's going to help unlock that kind of question," says Barrett.
"If I took a high-level look, there's just no chemical usage which should aid in the organic certification but we're working through the detail on that question.
"There's really been a lot of groundwork here and we're keen to roll it out in Australia that's where our initial focus is."
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Business News Australia
Author: Matt Ogg