FIELD DAY BY CROP.ZONE
AGTECH COMPANY CROP.ZONE DEMONSTRATES ITS “HYBRID HERBICIDE TECHNOLOGY” IN USE
On 28 June 2023, an inconspicuous potato field near Geilenkirchen, less than 10km from the Dutch-German border, was the scene of operations for an agricultural technology that is anything but ordinary: the “Hybrid Herbicide Technology” developed by crop.zone, a leading AgTech company in Aachen, with strong roots in RWTH Aachen University. With 12 meters, 2.4 tons, 5.500 volts, and 112 kilowatts, crop.zone’s machinery is not just impressive in size but also in power – and very much so, when directly encountered.
The presentation of the “Hybrid Herbicide Technology” attracted a diverse international audience. CEO and founder Dirk Vandenhirtz welcomed farmers, industry leaders, investors and shareholders from Germany, France and the Netherlands to crop.zone’s first “Field Day”. Without giving too much away, the biology and ecotoxicology graduate from RWTH Aachen University started with a brief explanation of what the visitors were about to see in practice – a unique technology for a professional, biological and residue-free plant control.
Plant control is a key factor for good, bountiful and timely harvests. To enhance the quality, efficiency, and timing of the output, farmers worldwide practice crop desiccation, i.e. the drying out of plants or leaves. However, one of the most commonly practiced methods, the chemical treatment of the plants, comes with several side effects: The herbicides used to dry out the plants also penetrate the root system, accumulate in the surrounding soil, and leave residue in the harvest that will be processed into food. Recent discussions on the health and environmental impacts of the herbicide glyphosate exemplify the inherent risks of chemical desiccation methods, apart from the increasing costs for the farmers.
MODERN PLANT CONTROL WITHOUT CHEMICALS
With its “Hybrid Herbicide Technology”, crop.zone has developed an electrical alternative to chemical desiccation – with the potential to revolutionize plant control by means of a three-piece system, applicable to a regular tractor. To demonstrate the interplay of the “volt.fuel”, “volt.cube” and “volt.apply” components in action, Vandenhirtz and his team started the engines of a tractor equipped with the full crop.zone technology. Once the impressive vehicle had been maneuvered over to the potato field and positioned in line with the dams, the applicators were lowered to plant level. Then, the desiccation process began.
First, the potato plants are sprayed with “volt.fuel”, a residue-free, conductive liquid based on biological ingredients that has been developed in cooperation with Nufarm, global crop protection and seed technology company headquartered in Australia. This step is needed to reduce the electrical resistance between the applicator and the plant, and conduct the energy even more efficiently into the plant. The electrical energy is supplied and controlled by the “volt.cube”, which consists of 16 high-voltage units with a maximum electrical output power of 112 kW. The transfer of the current onto the plants is then carried out by the “volt.apply”, an applicator system with a width of 12 meters.
The application of the “Hybrid Herbicide Technology” yielded immediate results. As they made their way to the field to inspect the outcome, the visitors could clearly see and feel the difference between the treated and the untreated plants. On the stretch that had undergone the crop.zone process, the dried out potato plants had sagged to the ground. The efficiency of the method became even clearer when Vandenhirtz and his team pointed to another section of the field which had been treated one week before the Field Day. With no plants left, the bare dams would allow the farmer to proceed with the harvest without the delays caused by conventional chemical desiccation.
FROM RESEARCH PROJECT TO APPLICATION “IN THE FIELD”
The idea started with a research project at the Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Plants at the Institute of Biology III at RWTH Aachen University in 2019. Four years into the entrepreneurial journey, crop.zone is now a successful fast-growing German AgTech company serving markets across Europe as well as the Americas. RWTH Innovation has been with the team since day one – from enabling the first prototype in the pilot phase of the Innovation Sprint all the way to today, holding shares in the innovative tech company that is on an impressive growth trajectory, made possible by a great management team, engineering and manufacturing “Made in Germany”, strong business partners and the backing of renowned investors. Learn more about crop.zone’s journey here: GründerStart Initiative, BMEL Grant.
“The Field Day proved that crop.zone technology is on the way to revolutionize agriculture in a sustainable way. As a shareholder of crop.zone GmbH, we are proud to be part of this journey to advance sustainable, herbicide-free agriculture on a global scale,” says Sabine Kaiser, Venture Manager at RWTH Innovation.
Many thanks to Dirk Vandenhirtz and team for the invitation and the impressive demonstration of the technology “in the field”. We’re excited to be by your side in the next chapters of your journey!