China group pays $20m for Israeli smart agritech firm

China group pays $20m for Israeli smart agritech firm

AutoAgronom’s advanced drip irrigation system ‘listens to the roots,’ gives crops what they need to thrive

An AutoAgronom fertigation monitoring system in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)
An AutoAgronom fertigation monitoring system in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)

After winning a slew of start-up contests, environmental technology competitions, and start-up awards, Israel’s AutoAgronom is moving on to the next level — bringing its smart agricultural technology to the vast fields of China. AutoAgronom was bought out this week by Yuanda Enterprise Group, a Chinese conglomerate that does practically everything, including construction, electronics, and environmental technology.

Details of the deal were not disclosed, but reports pegged the buyout price at $20 million. AutoAgronom said it would continue its product development in Israel, while Yuanda would market its products and services in China and beyond. In the wake of the deal, AutoAgronom is likely to open a facility in China.

Drip irrigation was Israeli water-saving technology 1.0 — enabling farmers to avoid waste by targeting only the growing areas that actually needed water. AutoAgronom supplies drip 2.0 tech by employing smart sensor technology to drip irrigation systems, saving farmers significant amounts of water, and cutting down on the use of pesticides as well.

Combining irrigation and fertilization (an agriculture tech method called fertigation), AutoAgronom uses sensors attached to plant roots and embedded in the ground to examine soil conditions, weather, water levels, nutrient levels in the soil, pest conditions, and more. Using advanced algorithms, the system then directs the computerized water and pest control systems on exactly how much of each to release and when to release it, for maximum positive effects.

AutoAgronom, based on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in northern Israel, supplies impressive figures on the results of its technology. In the UK, for example, strawberry farmers have been able to cut down on water use by 30% and increase yield by 28%, while reducing their use of pesticides by 70%, a major boon for lovers of the fruit who have been scared off because of farmers’ use of environmentally unfriendly chemicals and pesticides. AutoAgronom’s smart fertigation system has been successfully used with 70 different types of crops in 13 countries, the company said.

Beyond the figures are the accolades AutoAgronom has garnered since it was established in 2012. In the past year, the company either won or was a top contender in international contests like the MassChallenge 2014 Accelerator Program, Globes/Bank Hapoalim Smart Start-up contest, and Israel Cleantech Open 2014. The company will represent Israel in Cleantech Open Global Ideas 2014, set to take place in California in November.
For China, water savings of the kind AutoAgronom provides are worth their weight in gold — much more than $20 million. Even in normal times, Chinese farmers are notorious water wasters, relying mostly on surface irrigation to water crops. But these are not normal times. The country is in the midst of its worst drought in six decades, but it still has a billion mouths to feed.

AutoAgronom CEO Nissim Daniely says his company’s tech will probably help a lot. “Every year, the area of drip irrigation system farming in China increases about 20 percent, which is more than in Israel and Europe together,” he told China Daily. “It is a huge market in China. The movement to new technology there is huge.”

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