Water-saving agritech startup snags big horticulture names for trials, eyes thirsty global markets

An agritech startup aiming to improve water use efficiency by wine and fruit growers by up to 50 per cent is celebrating double after raising $1 million funding and convincing some of horticulture’s biggest names to trial its invention.

Croptide, founded this year by young engineers Hamish Penny and Finn Brown, uses internet-enabled sensors to provide accurate and timely water measurement data from plants direct to growers facing climate change-induced water scarcity.

The pair’s technology, a device that attaches to a plant and transmits its water health to a grower’s phone within seconds, has attracted $1m in a pre-seed funding round led by Icehouse Ventures with support from Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 and Masfen Group.

Among those trialling the technology this summer are global kiwifruit exporter Zespri, T&G Global, Pernod Ricard Winemakers, Cloudy Bay New Zealand and Indevin. Large kiwifruit grower Ngai Tukairangi Trust is also trialling the device.

Export is front and centre on Croptide’s radar given the technology is low-cost and scalable to manufacture and can be sent out to growers to install themselves.

“A number of regions in the world have significant water problems. We really need to have a scalable physical product we can manufacture large numbers of and get out to different places so growers can use their water efficiently,” said Hawke’s Bay-based Penny, who has a master’s degree in engineering.

“We are really proud to be working with these companies. We had conversations with them through our connections and the instant response was they were really worried about water scarcity.

“They knew they had to be really efficient with their water and currently they don’t have the tools they need to assess crop needs and irrigate accordingly.”

The big plus is four of the companies have global reach and global links that can introduce Croptide to networks.

“If we can do trials in the Northern Hemisphere next year we could get twice the amount of data in 12 months utilising the different seasons. Getting overseas as soon as possible is part of our focus.”

The company aims to improve water-use efficiency for fruit and wine growers by 30-50 per cent.

Around 160 devices are being trialled. The new funding will be used to progress the trials in Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty and Marlborough, and to further develop the technology.

The first trials began late last year.

Penny said up until now the founders have mainly funded the venture, helped by a $4200 grant from Callaghan Innovation. Another funding application is now with the Crown entity.

Croptide is Penny’s second startup. He co-founded an electric weeding company in 2019. The co-founder is now running it so Penny could commit to Croptide. Companies Office records show Penny owns 45 per cent of Croptide, Brown 38 per cent and a private interest, Page Bloomer Associates, 17 per cent.

Croptide has hired as its commercial director Nick Fitzpatrick who spent 10 years setting up overseas offices for T&G Global, before joining California agritech startup Apeel Sciences. A software engineer has also been taken on. Neither are investors in Croptide.

Penny said with the United Nations predicting a 40 per cent shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030 and the world’s fruit growers pledging to significantly reduce their water use, if every grower knows the precise amount of water needed for every plant, significant water efficiency gains can be made to feed the planet.

“Sustainability and circular food production will be at the core of Croptide’s operating model.”

Croptide’s focus this summer is to spend time with growers developing the product to a commercial standard that fully meets their needs, said Penny.

“Developing an app that growers can have on their phones to make decisions is where the real work is for us moving forward.”

Another focus is proving the technology consistently correlates with a current “gold standard” manual-based system of measuring plant hydration.

Neither Penny nor Brown have agriculture backgrounds.

“It’s been a very rapid and quite exciting learning experience,” said Penny.

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