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Friday 17 August 2018

UCD crop-spraying tech spinout forecasts sales of €20m next year

MagGrow uses magnetism to spray crops
MagGrow uses magnetism to spray crops

John Reynolds

A UCD spinout co-founded by two Dublin brothers is forecasting sales of €20m next year. MagGrow was founded by serviced apartment firm entrepreneurs Gary and David Wickham, who have developed a promising crop-spraying technology.

The company uses magnetism to spray crops more precisely. This results in much higher crop yields and a huge reduction in waste of water and fertiliser, as well improved disease prevention and control and greater overall efficiency.

MagGrow is headquartered in Dublin and backed by Enterprise Ireland and a number of the founders' friends, family and business colleagues.

This week the firm was the only Irish recipient of an award from the Global Cleantech Cluster Association, a Swiss organisation that tracks the most investable and innovative clean technology companies in the world.

The Wickham brothers founded their first business, StayCity, which provides serviced apartments, in 2004. It has revenues of €50m and employs 500 people, operating 1,400 apartments across a number of UK and European cities, with plans to expand this number to 15,000 by 2021.

MagGrow began as a startup at UCD's Nova centre, and now has offices in Kenya and Ethiopia, where there is a market of 20 million small farmers. Some customers have seen their crop yields increase 300pc, with water use reduced by 67pc and fertiliser use halved.

In Europe, improvements in crop yields of up to 40pc are possible using its sprayers, and typically its customers here have also halved their water and fertiliser use.

"In some countries where we're operating, our technology is the only solution that meets the latest environmental regulations," said Gary Wickham.

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The solution solves what is known as 'spray drift' when fertiliser drifts on the breeze instead of going on the crop as intended. The EU estimated that in 2011, the cost of water being polluted because of the excess run-off from this kind of spraying was €30bn.

The business was established in 2013 and employs 34 people. Another 54 employees will be recruited next year, 18 of whom will be based in its Dublin headquarters. The firm also has an office in San Francisco.

"We've raised €6m in funding to date, but we don't need to raise any more money for the moment. We expect to be able to grow organically from here, but are open to talking to investors if there are opportunities to dramatically accelerate our growth.

"We have an R&D pipeline as well, with plans to look at applying our technology to irrigation systems, using it in a crop-spraying drone, and combining our system with software and data analytics for even greater precision and monitoring," he added.

MagGrow's range of products consists of a sprayer for large greenhouse operators, one for small farmers, and one that can be attached to a tractor. Although they are manufactured in the UK, the company hopes to bring the manufacturing back to Ireland in the near future as sales increase.

Its solution arrives at a time of worsening climate change, increased droughts in Africa and parts of the US, coupled with wider concerns about water consumption and pollution, but also one where farming is set to be made "smarter" using technology.

Reports by industry analysts Research and Markets earlier this year said that the global precision farming market would be worth €4.5bn by 2020 and the agricultural drone market would be worth €3.5bn by 2022.

Sunday Indo Business



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