Investment in agtech is making a new, chemical-free method of weed control one step closer to commercialisation.
Developed by the University of Melbourne, with initial funding from Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Growave deploys a burst of microwave energy to kill in-paddock weeds and seeds, with potential applications in the horticulture, broadacre and viticulture sectors.
“Whenever you put anything that has a lot of water in a microwave oven, it starts to heat up. We can do the same thing by projecting energy onto the ground,” explains founder Dr Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne.
“Basically, what it does is, if it’s an emerged weed, it creates little explosions inside the plant and that, of course, kills the plant.”
“If the seed is in the soil, what it does is it actually heats the soil and the seeds up to the point where the seeds actually die and they won’t germinate or emerge.”
Growave recently received $900,000 in investment funds from the IP Group, Artesian Investments and Grain Innovate, the investment arm of the GRDC.
“We are looking for opportunities in the research field that can be transformed to businesses and ultimately be global businesses,” said IP Group head of physical sciences, Paul Barrett.
Bad News for Stubborn Weeds
While demand for the technology will likely be industry-wide, farmers battling with herbicide resistant weeds will be especially interested in the use of Growave to target weeds and weed seeds.
“It is a completely different mode of action to chemical control, it physically explodes the cells inside the weeds and cooks and deactivates the germination of the seeds,” said Dr Brodie.
“We’ve got demonstrable data that we can handle weeds of reasonable size, up to knee height, in terms of species we have done some more experiments, such as serrated tussock and Chilean needle grass and other problem weeds, where we have demonstrated some good control.”
Weed control costs Australian agriculture around $2.5 billion each year, with a list of at least 25 herbicide resistant weeds. Increasing consumer-led concern about the safety of herbicides, most notably glyphosate, is pushing the industry to consider alternatives to chemical treatments.
“We see a lot of market forces coming around herbicide-free agriculture, farmer and consumer led, so we felt this opportunity while still young has tremendous potential,” said Mr Barrett.
“Broadly, consumers are becoming more aware of chemicals in the food chain, whether that be plastics getting into the waterways or chemicals in our foodstuffs.”
“With that backdrop, we were hungry to find an opportunity there to meet consumer demands.”
It is expected that Growave technology could be market ready in as little as 18 months.
“We are leaning towards horticulture as a starting place as it seems to be where the need is greatest and it has high yields per hectare,” he said.