Weeds cooked with microwaves

Growave technology begins commercial pathway

Horticulture
WEED CONTROL: Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne with a prototype of the Growave weed control technology.

WEED CONTROL: Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne with a prototype of the Growave weed control technology.

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Growave microwave technology makes first steps towards commercialisation

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Microwaves are one step closer to cooking weeds in your paddock, with news innovation investors have fronted cash for the initial steps towards commercialisation of the weed control technology.

Developed by University of Melbourne with funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the Growave technology was spun-off into a privatised company earlier this year.

Growave director and IP Group hard of physical sciences Paul Barrett said a total of $900,000 had been invested for the first stage of commercialisation by the IP Group, Artesian Investments and GRDC investment arm, Grain Innovate.

Mr Barrett said IP Group was a global investment firm which specialised in partnering on commercialising innovations developed by universities.

"We are looking for opportunities in the research field that can be transformed to businesses and ultimately be global businesses," he said.

"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."

Mr Barrett said Growave was exploring a number of fits for the technology, including horticulture, viticulture and broadacre.

"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.

"While there is strong international interest in the technology, Growave will firstly focus on domestic markets with new trials commencing on farmland at Dookie in Victoria and in Southern Queensland in the Lockyer Valley on an organic vegetable farm.

"It is anticipated in 18 months the Growave technology will be ready for commercial deployment."

Mr Barrett said microwave based technology had been proven safe for both workers and the environment.

"This technology has been designed to be viable for use in the field and essentially it is not different to using a microwave in your home," he said.

"We are looking really closely at soil health, early data shows we actually have a pretty substantial net-benefit to soil health and the team is in the process of putting together a scientific publication on that."

Growave developer, Melbourne University senior lecturer food and agriculture, Dr Graham Brodie,said while he was not a director of Growave he would be involved in its further development.

"The next steps are to demonstrate at a more commercial scale that microwave technology can be used for weed management and weed control to demonstrate to farmers that this is a viable prospect," he said.

"Then we will develop some commercial prototypes so people can take them out and do a 'shake down' cruise with the technology."

Dr Brodie said Growave technology could be used in a wide range of farming systems, but had particular scope for herbicide resistant and hard to control weeds.

"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," he said.

"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."

Dr Brodie said the incorporation of the company Growave allowed a more commercial focus for the technology.

"It will hopefully take the technology forward, I think it is a good vehicle for doing that," he said.

While not an insignificant sum, $900,000 is a relatively small investment in the world of agtech and could signal the technology is still some way off commercial delivery.

Mr Barrett said the funds represented just the initial investment in the technology.

"The way venture investment would work is that there is risk, risk the investment doesn't come through and the business is not as valuable as thought, so usually it pays investment proportional to risk," he said.

"The company gets the first cheque and if things go well bigger cheques get written as it moves to scale and roll-out of technology.

"This is our first toe in the ocean, we will use this money to validate the performance and economics of the technology as well as figure out the market centre and then we will look for additional investment to develop the technology and roll-out commercially."

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