Start-up sees green shoots in crop irrigation technology

Portuguese start-up Trigger Systems has created an algorithm-based watering system

Trigger Systems chief operating officer Sara Gonçalves.

Trigger Systems chief operating officer Sara Gonçalves.

 

A Portuguese start-up has created a new algorithm-based irrigation technology it claims will improve crop yields while reducing water wastage.

Sara Gonçalves first became interested in agronomy, an agri-science which covers all areas of plant, crop and soil management, when her parents moved to rural farming community in northern Portugal. “I decided to choose a bachelor in agronomy and while I was studying I discovered how many opportunities there were to develop technology for agriculture.”

She teamed up with Francisco Manso, an agronomist with 20 years’ experience in the area, and started Trigger Systems. “It was like a perfect match because I knew the new technologies that were being developed, but he already had the experience of working in this field and in the market and had some contacts in the area,” says Gonçalves.

Working as irrigation managers they spotted a gap in the market for an automated irrigation system that could more accurately water the plants by making more informed decisions based on a wider range of different variables. “We saw the problem at first hand, how complex it was to calculate all the plants’ needs and all the variables that we have while managing irrigation.”

Moisture content

Before Trigger Systems was set up, the most common method used by farmers or golf clubs was rather simple: when it’s hot, water the land. However, this system takes little or no consideration of the actual moisture content in the soil.

“A more advanced method is by using sensors that tell you how much water you need to keep in the soil. But as you can imagine, it has a lot of costs initially or investment for the farmer.” The data also requires human interpretation, an additional cost in time or money to the farmer.

Instead of using sensor systems in the ground, Gonçalves and Manso have developed a software platform that partly studies the state of the land from the sky. The platform uses many variables including weather data, by collecting raw data and imagery from satellites. The algorithm then calculates the amount of water required for each area of land.

This information is fed to a control device on the automatic irrigation system, which in turn opens or closes the water valves. Trigger Systems sell the hardware controller for about €1,000 and the software, which can be accessed on either a PC or mobile phone and has a premium licence.

“You can have an increase of 20 or 30 per cent in yield and the water savings can go up to 50 per cent,” Gonçalves explains, saying these figures are based on the findings of existing clients in Portugal.

While the team has developed its own hardware products for the irrigation system the main value is in the software, which is compatible with other systems, and the algorithms the team has developed.

Initial investment from venture capital firm Portugal Ventures in 2017 got the company off the ground and InnoEnergy, a body of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, opened the doors to new opportunities,

Funding round

The company closed its seed round in 2018 with a Portuguese investor having raised about €1 million. The team of 15 is putting its plans in place for its next round of funding. “We are right now planning and already meeting with investors. So hopefully in the end of this year, we close our series A.”

“We already have amazing results in Portugal, and we know that the algorithm can perform very well but we also know that it’s always possible to improve. For example, right now we are using video to monitor the plants, and this is a new way of bringing information to the model.”

Marketing their product at farmers, municipalities, golf courses and large private gardens, they plan to expand to Spain and France during the year, before looking further afield. And with water increasingly recognised as a valued commodity, Gonçalves and Manso hope their algorithms will prove a success not only in terms of crop yields but also for water conservation.

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