Despite a very rainy May, water tables have not filled up, and farmers fear for their crops this summer....
With 2020 now in hindsight, the start of a new year brings hope that’s overshadowed by the destructive path left by Covid-19. Diminishing fresh water, climate change, and world hunger had been looming over the planet, but the global pandemic heightened
food security concerns and demonstrated the impact of disruptions in supply chains.
A planet in crisis… searching for solutions to these problems. These problems often raise more questions than answers. For the past decade, Jan Gould, CEO and founder of Responsive Drip Irrigation, has been involved in research to develop a solution to conserve water, increase food production, and reduce carbon emissions from agriculture. Thoughts of her grandchildren and the world that they could inherit, fueled her passion and drive to develop the most revolutionary irrigation and fertigation delivery system that the world has ever seen.
A technology that could address these challenging world issues. In 2009, Mrs. Gould came across an innovative irrigation technology that worked with nature, rather than trying to control or change it. The technology, which is based on organic-chemistry, resulted in a nature-driven irrigation system that is regulated by plant-root signals, releasing water only when needed by the plant. With little more than a working concept, Jan knew this was the key to unlocking the future she envisioned – sustainability and preservation of the planet for tomorrow’s children.
The era of drip irrigation began in the late 1800s and developed into surface drip irrigation with emitters by 1960. Over the past 50 years, incremental progress was achieved with material enhancements and improved emitters. Although this type of irrigation used water more efficiently, conventional drip is still like all other irrigation methods that simply “force” water into the soil in volumes that are estimated to meet plants’ water requirements. New technologies like soil moisture sensors and “smart controllers” have helped increase the efficiency of “forced” irrigation systems. However, RDI presents a complete change - a paradigm shift, from human-controlled watering schedules to a completely plant-driven irrigation method.
For centuries, the function and development of plant root systems have been relatively mysterious. Studies in recent decades are helping us gain new understanding of how vital and complex plant life is just below the surface of the soil. Root exudates refer to a broad range of secretions that are released by the plant root into the rhizosphere (root zone). Exudates perform a number of functions, such as defending against intruding plants, bacteria, insects, and even communicating with symbiotic microbes.
One of the most important functions of root exudates is their role in water and nutrient uptake. As soil becomes wet, the water and soil molecules bond. This bond can be broken by gravity, heat or evaporation, and by root exudates which then allow the root to uptake water and nutrients. Plants can’t pull dirt through their roots, nor can they intake large volumes of water all at one time. Water molecules and minerals dissolved in these molecules are slowly drawn up through the plant’s roots. The amount of water needed and when it is needed is dictated by the plant, as it responds to numerous factors like temperature, humidity, sunlight, disease, insects, and its stage of growth. Plants are not passive recipients, but5are actively seeking to grow, mature, and thrive.
RDI GrowStream™ is the world’s first Plant-Responsive irrigation system.
GrowStream™ is a microporous tube that is installed subsurface near the root zone. It is made with a unique combination of hydrophobic and hydrophilic components, which holds water in the tubing at a very low pressure, releasing water only by the interaction of plant root exudates with the system.
By 2009, full-scale R&D facilities and test fields were established in Florida, U.S.A. Numerous plant varieties were grown in different environments to evaluate plant-responsive irrigation. The early testing demonstrated dramatic reductions in water usage compared to drip irrigation, but also revealed faster plant development of healthier crops producing higher yields.
With GrowStream™ allowing the plant to self-regulate its water delivery, nature was doing what it does best: leading to results that far exceeded any conventional method of irrigation. For the next decade, RDI continued R&D to improve, optimize and develop the technology for commercial applications.
After a decade of development, RDI GrowStream™ was released commercially in the U.S.A. in early 2019 for landscape, agriculture, greenhouse, vineyards, and nurseries. RDI was quickly catapulted onto the world stage after winning the “Best Innovation Award” for a startup company at the 2019 Global Forum for Innovation in Abu Dhabi. Over the past 2 years, the RDI GrowStream™ system has been installed and is being used in projects in 10 countries. From landscapes in southern California and Portugal, small-holder farms in Africa and Asia, and even to some of the world’s largest refugee camps: RDI Grow Stream™ is showing its immense versatility through a broad range of applications and environments.
In landscape applications, RDI GrowStream™ is not only showing water-savings, but also allowing designers a new way to consider water-efficient spaces and eliminate the need for hydrozones. Small holder farmers in Pakistan and Kenya are discovering new ways to easily diversify crops, significantly improve their yields, and reduce both their water and energy needs. In the Kakuma Refugee Camp, with nearly 200,000 residents, it had been virtually impossible to grow crops, due to the challenging soil and conditions. But with RDI GrowStream™, they produced healthy tomatoes, watermelon and fodder grass. In drought-stricken Australia, projects are focused on water conservation and soil regeneration. With its ultra-low pressure and flow requirements – GrowStream™ reduces energy consumption compared to conventional irrigation methods that require electricity or fuel to pump water throughout fields. Thierry Haller, a veteran of the irrigation industry, is leading RDI’s efforts in Europe: “Europe… and the world, needed a revolutionary technology to face the challenges at hand. GrowStream™ is the incredible solution, and it’s come just in time.”
In just the last 40 years, one-third of the planet’s arable land has been lost due to erosion or pollution.
RDI’s technology promotes regenerative agriculture – a holistic approach to farming that seeks to build healthy soil, increase biodiversity, and ensure the land can be farmed by future generations. RDI GrowStream™ works in the rhizosphere and can uniquely deliver a new breed of organic soil amendments and enhancements to improve soil health, preserving and creating land suitable for crop production. RDI’s GrowStream™ can use a range of water types- including wells, rivers, brackish water, tap water, and reclaimed/recycled water. Fertilizers and micronutrients can be delivered directly to the plant roots, eliminating fertilizer run-off and contamination of water sources.
Abu Dhabi – famous for its soaring buildings and financial sectors – is deeply committed to AgTech and sustainability. Hyper-arid climates like those of Abu Dhabi present extreme challenges to diverse crop production. In 2020, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) selected RDI along with 3 other AgTech firms to receive funding support to accelerate Abu Dhabi’s AgTech sector and leadership for the region.
With the support of ADIO, RDI established its new regional hub for R&D and production in Abu Dhabi. RDI’s initial pilot projects in Abu Dhabi are showing significant reductions in water usage, while supporting excellent plant growth for date palms, figs, forage grasses, and vegetables. In hyper-arid environments, the extreme temperatures and sandy soils are challenging to efficiently grow crops. RDI’s plant-responsive, nature-driven system has delivered impressive results. Jan Gould explains, “The power of our plant-responsive technology and our new innovation to help plants adapt to extreme temperatures will clearly establish the impact of RDI’s disruptive technology, which will forever change crop production in the desert. For generations, the people living in water-scarce, desert regions have had to diligently work and strive to create productive farmland in the harshest of environments. It remains RDI’s mission to work with people from every country to introduce GrowStream™ to meet increasing food production demands and conserve water, the planet’s precious resource that’s essential to all life.”
To help achieve Abu Dhabi’s vision for 2030, RDI also plans to build the RDI Abu Dhabi Center for Global Sustainability. Set to launch in 2021, this new state-of-the-art center will not only showcase RDI’s plant-responsive system, but will also serve as an exhibition center for AgTech innovations and sustainable, green technologies. It will provide educational programs on the latest techniques and best practices for implementing plant-responsive irrigation methods, regenerative farming, utilization of reclaimed water, sustainable building materials, energy conservation, carbon sequestering, and factors to address climate change. Plant studies and research programs will be ongoing with informational tours and presentations available.
In the Spring of 2021, RDI will begin a pilot project with the largest water agency in the U.S.A. This project will compare RDI GrowStream™ against the leading irrigation technologies, demonstrating GrowStream’s™ ability to transform outdoor water use for sustainable cities. As urban areas grow with rising populations, communities around the world must prioritize water-conservation in green spaces to ensure enough water resources are available for all other needs.
RDI is continuing its global initiatives, establishing new distributors and production facilities, and training the next generation of irrigation professionals in plant-responsive irrigation. After so many years of hard-work and development, Jan Gould’s commitment to leverage RDI’s technology for the planet’s future is finally taking shape, injecting much needed hope for a sustainable future for her grandchildren – and their 8 billion fellow global citizens.
“Responsive Drip Irrigation is committed to building a greener tomorrow for generations to come. If we all work together, there is hope for recovery from this global crisis. We just need to plant the seed…”