Australian agtech start-up Growave is raising $5 million to advance a new herbicide-free weed control system that has caught the eye of strawberry growers in the US.
The Melbourne-based company has successfully tested its microwave technology in a world-first trial on strawberry farms in Victoria showing that it can control weeds and fungal diseases in local crops.
The company sees the early success as a ‘significant step to increasing crop yield and eliminating herbicides’, which costs the broader Australian agricultural sector $2.5 billion a year to manage.
Growave’s testing on strawberry crops showed its prototype microwave technology destroyed 95 per cent of fungal disease.
Robotic engineer Liam Hescock (pictured), the head of product at Growave, says farmers are ‘highly engaged’ with the technology which offers a new alternative for treating serious diseases that may strike their crops.
"Farmers use fumigants to treat pathogens in the dirt after harvesting a crop,” says Hescock.
“Pathogens can lay dormant for 12 months in dead crops, but herbicide doesn't kill charcoal rot. Charcoal rot is a significant problem for the strawberry industry, with 90 per cent of Victorian strawberry crops affected last year."
Hescock says nutgrass is one of the biggest weed problems facing many farmers.
"It's a bulbed weed, and the more you turn the soil trying to pull it out, the further it spreads, so if we can take out the nutgrass using Growave, it will save farmers thousands of dollars a year," he says.
"Our patented microwave technology allows for efficiently targeting heat that destroys select weeds, buried seeds, and pathogens. It penetrates the target and destroys the cell structure from the inside permanently."
Growave’s prototype device is currently towed behind a tractor, but the team is looking to develop an autonomous platform to deliver the technology to crops in future.
The agricultural sector currently relies heavily on glyphosate products to manage weed problems, although weed chemical resistance is an emerging problem, says Growave CEO Jason Chaffey.
“In Australia alone, there are at least 25 different species of weeds resistant to traditional herbicides," says Chaffey.
"Weeds are getting smarter. While the ability to target them with chemicals is getting narrower with tighter restrictions already introduced in the US and Europe banning particular herbicides with Australia likely to follow suit.
"We are developing a chemical-free weed treatment using microwave technology. Growave is a cleaner way to kill weeds and disease, avoiding the use of chemicals. We are using electricity."
Growave's trial success has captured the interest of strawberry growers in California and the company is building on its recent trial success with new trials planned for Australia and California in 2022.
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