Israeli agri-tech startup Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture, which has developed technology to artificially pollinate crops, is expanding its scope to include not just insect-pollinated plants but wind-pollinated crops as well.
It will focus first on the pollination of pistachios, one of the world’s fastest-growing crops, the company said in a statement.
Pollination is a delicate and complex “last mile” stage in the process of growing crops — and whereas other stages of the plant development can be technology-assisted, farmers today generally have no control over pollination and product yields are nature-dependent and prone to be erratic.
There are two ways to pollinate naturally: via insects – mostly bees, which have seen a drastic decline in numbers in recent years – and via wind. The technology developed by Edete is a machine that replicates the pollination process targeting crops normally fertilized by bees. Now, the firm is turning its attention to crops that use wind for pollination purposes.
Plants like cereals and grasses, as well as olives, dates, pistachios, walnuts and some vegetable seeds, depend on wind pollination to procreate. Effective natural wind pollination depends on a number of factors, including the bloom of the male and female plants in synchrony, meteorological conditions such as temperature, day length, intensity of winds, and other environmental conditions including water and soil quality.
The shape of wind-pollinated pollen grains is specifically adapted so they can be transported by the wind. The grains are light, aerodynamic and designed for rapid release from the plant. While wind is ever-present, it is not a selective pollinator and is consequently inefficient over large distances. Wind-pollinated plants generally have abundant pollen production and synchronous mass flowering events to ensure successful pollen transfer, but the airborne pollen can drift randomly. In the end, only a small amount of the pollen will reach the female reproductive organ in the plant and perform pollination.
Edete’s technology aims to make sure that the pollination process is successful, even for wind-pollinated plants.
“After testing our unique automated pollination technology on insect-pollinated crops such as almonds, Edete is bringing its capabilities to the massive market of wind-pollinated crops,” said Keren Mimran, co-founder and VP for Business Development and Marketing at Edete.
“In recent years, growers have been confronted by an increased asynchrony between the bloom timing of male and female trees,” Mimram said. “As a result, the yield is reduced, and in extreme cases even results in lack of yield in entire plots. Our technology can and will solve this problem in a manner that helps growers feed the world in the most economical and effective way possible.”
For the artificial-pollination process, Edete collects the flowers mechanically, separates the pollen from the anthers and other flower parts, and produces pure pollen. The best, genetically fittest, pollen is applied on the target trees by the company’s autonomous pollinator machines, which use a combination of technologies to disperse an “optimal dosage” of dry pollen on targeted flowers, following the contour of each tree, the company said.
The mechanical pollinators, called 2Be, can work during the day or night and are not dependent on temperature or other environmental conditions. Artificial pollination does not depend on flowering synchronization, thanks to the ability to produce and preserve pollen years in advance and disperse pollen at the appropriate flowering times.
The global pistachio market generates between $6 billion and $9 billion a year. The world’s leading growers are the United States, Turkey, and Iran, followed by other countries including Greece, Italy, Spain, Afghanistan, Syria, China, and Australia.
Edete’s artificial pollination service has been used on almonds in Israel, and a pollen bank was produced in Australia using prototypes of mechanical pollinators developed by the company. The company’s technology can also be used to pollinate cherries, apples, and other crops, the company said in the statement.
Edete’s team is made up of multidisciplinary researchers and engineers. Since its establishment in 2016, Edete has raised around $6.2 million in pre-seed and seed funding, including $2.2 million from the Israel Innovation Authority. The company intends to raise additional funds in a Series A round during 2021, to support its scale-up plans and entry into the US market, the statement said.