Insights by Jane Stevensen, long standing friend of 6heads. Jane is the Founder Director of JSGlobal, with over 20 years’ experience advising businesses on sustainability strategy and practice. She is an expert in the creation of global engagement programmes to achieve consensus and drive visionary change.
In conversation with Sarig Duek, CEO of Phytech, an innovative agri-business capitalising on the need to actively manage resources, specifically water, in response to climatic change. Phytech sees the challenge of water management as crucial to successful agri-practice, and in a world where population is predicted to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, technical innovation will be one of the key tools for successful production. We are facing diminishing land resources, decreasing food resources and increasing food demand. This is one of the solutions to those rapidly increasing pressures.
Sarig explained that there is a crucial need to optimise the key inputs to producing a crop, namely labour, water, fertiliser, and energy use in order to enhance yield. Phytech have developed a sensor which is connected to individual plant stems and provides data in real-time on plant stress status. This enables the farmer to ensure that inputs to the crop are managed in the most resource effective way possible. It’s clever stuff, and Phytech supports farmers in some of the most extreme climates for growing crops, including Australia, Israel and the mid-west of the USA. It has a global communications system, interconnected with cloud-based servers and web-based software.
As Sarig says, it’s all about data – after all knowledge is power, even at the individual plant level. This is real-time continuous plant feedback – effectively the plant talks to the farmer constantly updating its status and allowing for small tweaks to the inputs with big impact, helping farmers to transform their irrigation practices with the most efficient and effective schedule.
The results are impressive. For the same acreage far better results can be achieved. Take, for example, almond production in Australia. From 2008-2015 production doubled, and water usage went up from 20% of costs to 40-50%. By harnessing this technology, the result is a win-win, with better production, and huge savings in water use which of course drives down costs and creates a sustainable system. Once Phytech was in use, the water savings for 20,000 hectares of production were 52 billion litres. That water can be used elsewhere, and with extremes of temperature currently driving fire, drought and flood in Australia, this has never been more vital. The country is, of course, no stranger to extreme weather – bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology – but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark. Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University and councillor with publicly funded communication body the Climate Council, says few parts of the continent have not experienced an extreme weather event in recent months.
Sarig is looking to the future, and those parts of the world where emerging markets are driving innovation, populations that need reliable and sustainable crop production. Africa, China, India – the potential is huge and technology will be key.