Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)
Boosting SA’s wine industry
The Winetech Pitching Den attracted over 1 000 entries this year. Dr Albert Strever and Gerard Martin spoke to Glenneis Kriel about the winning pitches.
With more than 60% of wineries struggling to keep head above water, Winetech launched the Winetech Pitching Den in 2018 to identify solutions that could help improve the overall resilience and profitability of the industry.
“We’re looking for innovations that can reduce climatic risks, improve water use and production efficiencies, and technological developments that integrate the physical and digital world to push the South African wine industry into the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Gerard Martin, managing executive of Winetech.
The competition attracted entrepreneurs from South Africa and other African countries, as well as Ireland, Austria, France and the Netherlands.
Of the more than 100 entrants, 20 made it to the finals and 15 pitched their ideas to a panel of judges at the SA Innovation Summit in September.
“The competition was tight, as most of the concepts are in line with what we’re looking for and exhibited world-class potential,” said Dr Albert Strever, one of the judges and a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University.
“The winners were, however, the highest-quality pitches and currently the most relevant to the industry’s needs and challenges.”
MEASURING PLANT STRESS
French company Vegetal Signals took first place with its sensor and analysis methods to monitor plant activities. The company won R150 000 to expand its concept in South Africa.
As the winner, Vegetal automatically qualified for the Africa Cup Pitching Den, where it took second place. The prize was R2,5 million in support (to be spent in South Africa).
Vegetal’s technology has been used to develop an automated water distribution system that supplies water based on plants’ water stress. In effect, this means that the plants control their own irrigation, allowing for a far more accurate use of water resources. The company claims that the system can be adapted to work on almost any kind of cultivated plant.
Vegetal aims to market a ‘translation’ for signals measured by its sensors to enable farmers to make better-informed production decisions. The plan is for the “translated information to be displayed on a customer-user interface for decision-making or to be used directly on automated systems”.
The service will initially focus on irrigation, but will later include applications associated with other stressors.
Martin said that solutions such as this were becoming increasingly important in water-stressed South Africa.
“We need solutions that will help farmers use their water as efficiently as possible, as climate change, which is resulting in weather patterns becoming less predictable and some areas becoming much drier, together with urbanisation, will only increase competition for water.”
Another French company, UV Boosting, received R100 000 for business development in South Africa when it took second place for its ultraviolet light pest management.
According to the company, ultraviolet (UV) light boosts the defence mechanism of plants, making them more resistant to pathogens such as powdery and downy mildew. The company claims it can reduce the use of fungicides on grapes and strawberries by between 50% and 100%.
The company has developed an implement named the Helios 2DR to apply the UV treatment. It is pulled through vineyards by a tractor in the same way as, for example, a trimming machine. The treatment should be carried out every eight to 12 days.
According to Strever, the UV booster could significantly reduce a farm’s chemical footprint.
“It would not only help reduce input costs, but be a major market advantage, as consumers, especially in our main markets, are becoming increasingly sensitive about the use of chemicals for environmental and health reasons that may or may not always be valid,” he explained.
“Winetech will surely host more pitching dens in the future, but for now the target is to make these solutions more accessible to farmers by helping these new entrants find their feet and commercialise their products.”
• For more information on the equipment in this report, email Denene Erasmus at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject line: Equipment.