Agritech start-up Croptide is on a mission to bring greater know-how globally to the simple act of watering crops.
Born out of a Massey University master’s project, and founded by Hawke’s Bay engineers Finn Brown and Hamish Penny, Croptide’s pioneering water sensing technology has captured the attention of major players in New Zealand’s horticulture sector. It has just secured $4.25 million in funding from Ubiquity Ventures, a major US investor that describes itself as a provider of “nerdy and early capital for ‘software beyond the screen’ startups”. Croptide is Ubiquity’s third New Zealand investment, it was also an early investor in Rocket Lab.
Croptide was founded in 2021. Since then it has been trialling its stem water potential sensing technology in 20 monitored orchard and vineyard sites in Hawke’s Bay, as well as sites in Marlborough. Current trial partners include Villa Maria, Cloudy Bay, Pernod Ricard, Zespri, and T&G. To date, water savings using Croptide technology sit at around 50%, on average.
Penny says Croptide’s technology (in simple terms) is trying to translate the language of plants.
“We’re trying to turn what’s happening in plants into really simple language that people can use. Our sensors plug directly into the stem of crops like apples, grapes, and kiwifruit, and give precise information on the water status of that plant. That information goes through an app to a cell phone or computer, providing insights to the grower that allows them to be very precise with their water management, and achieve better quality outcomes with their crop.”
Stem water potential measures water stress in plants, akin to blood pressure in humans. As the soil dries or humidity, wind or heat load increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the roots to keep pace with evaporation from the leaves. Under these conditions the plant begins to experience ‘high blood pressure’. Measuring stem water potential helps determine the optimum time to deliver water to the plant.
With two seasons of data under its belt, and its next phase of funding secure, Croptide is focussing on further product development, expanding its team, and commercial trials with existing partners Zespri et al shifting to customer status.
The coming season’s El Niño weather pattern, with dryness expected in the east coast of New Zealand, will be a great test case for Croptide, says Penny.
“To see what difference we can make, how much water we can save, and the difference we make for production. How our (technology) can improve operations and everything else. That’s the goal this season with our customers.”
Penny’s vision for Croptide technology is to solve the global problem of water. “Water is going to be the biggest geopolitical issue of the century. Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s water resources.
“We want Croptide to be a global solution, where we can really make a difference for water and food security. That’s our focus for the longer term.”