Wednesday, 14 February 2024 15:25

H2Ortigator - the plant babysitter

Written by  Tony Skinner

A New Zealand startup is offering a novel approach to irrigation and nutrition management, specifically designed to optimise the growth of young plants in vineyards and orchards.

H2Ortigator co-founders Brendan and Hayley Hamilton have developed a system that addresses a critical gap in horticultural practices: the nurturing of replacement plants during their crucial early growth stages.

During seven years as a consultant in the horticultural industry, Brendan noticed young plants being replaced in vineyards and orchards consistently struggle. “They’re never up to speed, taking another three to four seasons to start producing and turning money.”

The observation led to the development of the H2Ortigator unit, a device designed to aid young plants in establishing and yielding faster than before. Described by Brendan as “the babysitter for these young plants”, the H2Ortigator unit is a self-contained system that integrates into existing irrigation setups, ensuring plants receive ideal soil moisture and nutrition.

This precision is particularly important in the first two seasons of a plant’s life, which are vital for establishing robust roots and promoting vigorous early growth. Once these initial stages are complete, the unit can be detached and reused for other plants. One notable aspect of the H2Ortigator unit is its conservation of water, Brendon says. “On average, across all of our crops, we’re saving about 60% water per vine.”

Turning the concept into a commercial product wasn’t without its challenges, and their involvement in the Sprout Accelerator programme was crucial, helping them fast-track their market introduction and fine-tune their business strategies.

A Callaghan Innovation grant also allowed them to push out around 400 trial units around the upper North Island. These trials, involving various crops, were instrumental in refining the product to fit seamlessly into orchard and vineyard systems. In vineyards, the H2Ortigator unit has been shown to increase survival rates and early growth of grapevines, reduce stalling and stunting, and lead to earlier fruit bearing and returns. Importantly, it protects young vines from various risks, such as ringbarking pests, horticultural sprays, and machinery damage.

Looking ahead, Brendan says the team plans to extend trials of the units into regions such as Marlborough and Central Otago, while pushing forward with the commercialisation of the product in New Zealand and internationally. “It’s been really fulfilling,” he reflects. “It’s been great, developing a product from seeing a need for something and developing it all the way through with the help of the growers.”

Sprout

Sprout Agritech Ltd is an agritech accelerator and investor. Sprout runs a 12-week Accelerator twice a year and invests up to NZD$1 million investments in agrifoodtech start-ups solving challenges in the agricultural and food value chains.

sproutagritech.com

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