Ag-tech player Roots’ successful basil study opens commercial doors

By Zoe Gross. Published at Oct 25, 2018, in Technology

Thriving ag-tech play, Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies (ASX:ROO), has sold its first Root Zone Temperature Optimisation (RZTO) system for use on basil crops in Israel.

Following on from a successful basil pilot conducted earlier in the year, a basil farmer in Israel has now decided to buy the commercial system of RZTO technology to increase crops and reap the benefits of being able to supply basil — traditionally a summer herb — all year round.

It also comes only a month after the Israeli Government granted an up to 30% subsidy for basil growers purchasing ROO’s RZTO technology.

The order, which is valued at A$30,000, is expected to be the first of many as Israeli basil growers take advantage of the subsidy.

The pilot study took place in Carmia during the Israeli winter, where the roots of basil plants were heated at an average of five degrees warmer using RZTO technology.

This study saw crop yield increased by 66% and average plant size boosted by 35%. ROO also shortened the growing cycle and improved the shelf life of the basil.

For readers who are new to this ag-tech growth story, ROO is creating disruptive, modular, cutting-edge technologies to solve major problems in modern agriculture, including plant climate management and the shortage of water for irrigation.

Its unique, patented RZTO technology optimises plant physiology for increased growth, productivity and quality by stabilising the plant’s root zone temperature.

The technology heats or cools the roots of a range of crops as needed in one system, mitigating against daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations. This enables considerable energy and capital and operating expense cost savings, combined with greater yield increase.

Interim results from a recent world-first proof-of-concept study cooling the roots of medical cannabis in greenhouses showed plants grew 50% larger compared with uncooled control plants.

The basics of how RZTO technology works, especially in the context of the basil study:

Using the Ground Source Heat exchange (GSHE) version of the RZTO system, the basil roots in the pilot were heated by an average of five degrees compared with control plantings to achieve these results.

A critical thing to bear in mind here is that basil is usually only grown in the summer months, requiring a high temperature for normal development. Bringing RZTO into play, however, heating the root zone significantly improves the plant’s growth rate, and increases the crop yield during the cold winter period.

These results illustrate the benefits ROO’s GSHE system can have for farmers in locations that are subject to wide temperature variations, enabling them to dramatically increase yields and profits through more efficient crop management, while at the same time using substantially less energy.

The subsidy, meanwhile, was approved by the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural based on the success of ROO’s basil pilot, and was granted under the Precision Ag Program — a collaboration between the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Finance, which is investing A$17.6 million in innovative ag-tech and machinery through until the end of 2019.

Roots CEO and co-founder, Dr Sharon Devir, said that this first sale under the Precision Ag Program “shows the value of government supporting innovation in agri-tech.”

Devir said he expects the subsidy will generate additional commercial sales and opportunities with Israeli basil and other growers.

"During the pilot, we were able to demonstrate to the farmer the economic value of our root zone heating and cooling technology,” Devir said. “Stabilising the basil roots temperature during winter allowed the farmer to dramatically increase crop production and yield, extending seasonal crop growth periods year-round with relatively low energy costs and, ultimately, increase profitability.

“Our first RZTO order by a basil grower highlights the importance of commercial pilots in the ag-tech sector, enabling farmers to test new technology on different crops, environments and growing conditions before purchasing.

“The Israeli Government subsidy has reduced the initial outlay required, as well as provided independent verification of the multiple benefits of our RZTO technology,” he noted.

“As basil requires high temperatures for normal development, the cost of heating the volume of greenhouses makes it prohibitive to grow in winter in many parts of the world due to energy costs involved. RZTO heats the crop roots, rather than the air, providing increased plant protection against cold for substantial less initial investment in heating system and energy costs throughout the growing cycle.”

The installation of ROO’s RZTO system in Carmia is taking place this month. This will see ROO using a self-embedding machine for the first time. The modular device can easily be mounted to any two-wheel tractor and significantly reduces installation times.

ROO’s self-embedding machine being used to install RZTO pipes

On top of this, ROO also recently secured its first commercial order in South Korea for two RZTO systems, which will be used in hydroponic greenhouses. This comes less than a month after penning a non-exclusive distribution agreement with leading Korean ag-tech distributor, Ezfarm, and is expected to be the first of many.

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