Global irrigation optimisation solution ready for investment
Athena IR-Tech's irrigation sensing technology has proven to reduce water use by 35% in Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and up to 75% in Shiraz grapes through monitoring plant transpiration. A unique opportunity now exists for investors and commercial partners to scale its global expansion in wine and horticulture regions.
Water is one of Earth’s most precious resources. Adopting solutions to maximise water efficiency has never been more important for the global food system.
Australian agritech startup, Athena IR-Tech has honed its focus to solve this challenge, and equip farmers with the tools to better understand their crop’s water needs and schedule irrigation accordingly.
Using an algorithm developed by the University of Adelaide, Athena IR-Tech launched the Transp-IR solution to monitor the way water moves through a plant, and how much water is taken up by the roots to use for growth.
The in-field Transp-IR devices use infrared technology to record leaf and ambient temperature, humidity and solar radiation, with data transmitted every 10 minutes via 4G to the cloud.
Athena IR-Tech CEO, Jay Holata said the world-first technology informs the farmer when the plant water status drops below optimal level, enabling maximum water use efficiency without compromising crop yield or quality.
“Most farmers irrigate based on past cropping experience, but it’s estimated that 40% of the irrigation water used for agricultural production is wasted each year. Transp-IR is a piece of hardware that sits above the crop and indicates what percentage of water is being taken up by the plant in the daily growing environment,” said Jay.
“This information is then mapped to an optimal irrigation range that is specific to the physiology of each crop, giving growers a Plant Water Index to ensure the plant has just the amount of water it needs to photosynthesise without wastage.
“We ground-truth research for each crop over an entire growing season before it’s added to the Transp-IR solution.”
The novel approach taken within the algorithm builds on established research that clearly demonstrates a link between water availability, how well the plant regulates its stomata – pores that take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen – and how well the plant is photosynthesising.
Industry success drives Athena IR-Tech’s expansion and investment opportunity
With 40 customers using the Transp-IR product across Australia and New Zealand – garnering fruitful results – Athena IR-Tech plans to expand the technology to almonds, Valencia and navel oranges, and Imperial mandarins during the 2023 season.
“I'm talking to the Almond Board of Australia and Citrus SA about how we can get involved in their field days and potentially provide solutions to growers who are early adopters of technology,” said Jay.
Athena IR-Tech also plans to add another 10 grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir to the portfolio of crops where Transp-IR can be used.
The company is now seeking investment and commercial partners to fund R&D for these new crops, establish a marketing presence and expand Transp-IR throughout wine and horticulture regions in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Europe, South America, and South Africa.
- Interested in Athena IR-Tech’s seed round investment opportunity, to support the commercialisation of its global scale up? Learn more via AgriFutures growAG. here
‘Two-pronged’ approach to guide expansion
Most of Athena IR-Tech’s hardware product development is complete for current wine grape, orchard and small-scale fruit and vegetable crops, Jay explained. The investment will initially guide the manufacture of the next version of the hardware and software, which is forecast to be complete by September 2023, as well as establish market and customer engagement capabilities to support sales, implementation and follow-on support.
“It's a two-pronged approach. We're looking for some equity investment, about $800,000 worth of capital, to keep expanding. We're a revenue generating company and have been for two years,” he said.
“We’re also seeking business partners, whether they are large corporates that want to use the software such as Elders, which may be interested from a distributor or reseller point of view, or Syngenta, which may consider a partnership to weave Transp-IR in with its other technologies.”
Initial sponsorship of the Transp-IR solution by the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) and Wine Australia meant that 17 South Australian growers were provided with 31 units during the 2021-2022 growing season, which converted into a 94% return rate, with 15 of 17 customers returning as paying customers and expanding Athena IR-Tech’s footprint of units in the field from 31 to 39.
Water savings study compares Transp-IR with conventional methods
Jay said a four-year study funded by Wine Australia and conducted through the University of Adelaide showed that Transp-IR could achieve significant water savings in crops of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, without downgrading quality or yield.
The study showed plant-based sensing technologies for irrigation scheduling in vineyards offer operational, financial and user experience benefits compared to conventional methods of managing irrigation, through methods such as soil moisture probes.
In the study, plant-based proximal thermal sensors (Transp-IR) were compared with crop evapotranspiration (ETc), soil moisture probes, and non-data driven approaches to schedule irrigation in premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz vineyards.
In one season, where irrigation on Shiraz grapevines was scheduled using Transp-IR, the vines received only 40-60% of the total irrigation compared to the conventional method but still achieved similar yield and quality outcomes.
Timely application to solve global water challenge
With water scarcity a global problem, being able to optimise irrigation timing in dryland horticulture and viticulture is really exciting.
“Transp-IR is applicable to any irrigated crop so we’d like to pursue its application in broadacre crops such as corn, lucerne and soybeans, as well as efficient cultivation of lawn or turf,” said Jay.
Athena IR-Tech Co-founders Dr Fran Doerflinger and Dr Vinay Pagay are viticultural and agricultural research scientists from Cornell University and the University of Adelaide, while Jay Holata brings 35 years of business expertise with companies such as Accenture, Constellation Wines and Schneider Electric.
“In Australia, the profit for cropping farms can decrease from around A$230,000 in a typical year down to a loss of $125,000 in a dry year, such as 2018-2019. Irrigation management using advanced technologies is becoming a minimum requirement for farmers just to survive.”
For more information or to enquire about this commercial opportunity, visit growAG. here.
Explore, find and connect with a wealth of research projects and innovation opportunities from across Australia’s agrifood innovation system at growag.com. To list a research project, commercialisation opportunity or organisation, please visit growag.com/submit.
Looking for engagement?
Showcase your commercialisation opportunity today.
Talk to our team to discuss how growAG. can connect your innovation to industry.
Have questions? Find answers to our most frequently asked questions on research projects, commercial opportunities, organisations and more.