This content is hosted by Agri-TechE as part of its service to its members. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual/organisation that supplied the content and not those of Agri-TechE or its employees.

This content is hosted by Agri-TechE as part of its service to its members. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual/organisation that supplied the content and not those of Agri-TechE or its employees.

Aquagrain – The first commercially viable water absorbing soil improver?

Despite the variable global weather Biomation’s Aquagrain has turned in some impressive results in its 2021 Covid restricted commercial demonstration programme.

Aquagrain™ is a unique, organic based soil improver which can absorb up to 30 times its mass in water providing food and drink for plants. Aquagrain incorporates organic waste from the food industry into a biodegradable, carbon chain polymer.

Its organic content, with enhanced micronutrients, not only supplies crops with valuable nutrients, cutting the requirement for inorganic fertilisers, it also significantly stimulates microbial activity in the soil and is ideal for regenerative farming practices.  Aquagrain biodegrades over 12 months to leave just water, CO₂ and organic matter in soil.

Controlled environment trials have shown Aquagrain can cut irrigation requirements by up to 50%, reduce leachate by 60%, proven plants survive up to 16 days longer without irrigation if planted with Aquagrain and can increase crop yield by as much as 3 times, but those results needed verification in commercial growing scenarios.

Covid and the withdrawal of DfID funding saw Aquagrain trials with the South African Western Cape Province Agricultural Research Department and the Nigerian Centre for Dryland Agriculture cancelled but rainfed trials with Winter Wheat in the Middle East, Winter and Spring Barley in Suffolk as well as a “Bumble-Bird” crop trial to improve biodiversity on another Suffolk farm.

Aquagrain works best in hot, arid lands, with free draining soils and would be of little use on much of the UK farmland. East Anglia does have appropriate soil types, as well as receiving lower rainfall than the rest of the country. Commercial demonstrations with rainfed Winter and Spring Barley were set up on a Breckland farm with free draining sandy soil over chalk. A further Bumble Bird demonstration was set up on a patch of sandy, dry headland at a farm just outside Aquagrain’s R & D centre in Needham Market.

Aquagrain’s Chief Scientific Officer and inventor, Dr Arjomand Ghareghani was very pleased with the demonstration results despite weather events suggesting conclusive data might prove elusive. Arjomand reported ”It was good to get some demonstrations going after the disappointment of the main trial programmes in South Africa and Nigeria being cancelled, but both winter cereal trials were hit with heavy rain. In the Middle East there was biblical level flooding in the trial area, killing civilians and threatening to wash away the crop. In the Breckland trial it rained for three months post drilling nullifying the benefits of Aquagrain. After Christmas the weather in the Middle East turned from flood to drought and East Anglia suffered weeks of cold dry Easterly’s in the spring. I was not hopeful of significant data from anywhere.”

In the Middle East Aquagrain treatments yielded 720 kg/ha compared with inorganic treatments which yielded 520 kg/ha. Arjomand indicated that typical yields of 800 kg/ha in no ways compares with UK yields and could not be met because of the drought (85% lower rainfall than average) but Aquagrain could be considered an insurance policy against failure.

On the Brecks, despite the wet and dry periods Aquagrain achieved Winter Barley yields of 6.6 ton/ha compared with standard inorganic treatments which delivered 5.9 ton/ha an increase of 12% without an application of Chafer N30 + S fertiliser at 200,000 L/ha. Spring Barley results reflected better Aquagrain properties with an increase in crop yield of 27% from 4 tons/ha to 5.1 tons/ha.

On the Bumble-Bird crop outside Needham the farms wildlife manager reported the difference in Aquagrain, Non Aquagrain field strips as “like walking across a black and white Zebra crossing.” He added that “the headland is so dry nothing has survived in previous years but Aquagrain has transformed the area.” The farm owner was so impressed with Aquagrain performance he requested 35 tons of Aquagrain for his 70 hectares of rainfed cereals planned for 2022.

Aquagrain’s Head of Business Development, JP Dorgan, was pleased with the summer results, but pragmatic about the technology’s immediate widespread adoption. It is great that despite the climate challenges, these results indicate Aquagrain can add value to commercial growers. It is fantastic that even before the Brecklands results were received, after one trial a farmer is so convinced with results that they want to order 35 tons. Unfortunately, our production capacity at our R & D facility is only one ton a month, so it may take us a while to deliver that order. We are expecting the Breckland trial debrief shortly and if the quality of the grain, in addition to the quantity is improved, this could suggest that there is a rainfed crop market in the UK as well as the overseas, high value irrigated crop markets we intend to target when we have secured some investment.

“What we have done in the last couple of months is target a market we can penetrate. We have good trial results from pots, hanging baskets, trees and shrubs, so we have introduced two additional versions of Aquagrain. As well as AquagrainCrops for agriculture, we have AquagrainTrees and AquagrainPlants, to penetrate the retail ornamental market and the landscaping, desert greening and forestry markets. It was a huge effort but in only a few weeks we rebranded, rebuilt the website and prepared a stand for the UK’s largest Garden Centre trade Exhibition, GLEE (Gardening Leisure Entertainments Exhibition) held last week at the NEC. The AquagrainPlants stand attracted a lot of attention, in addition to interest from a number of smaller retailers and distributors we had interest from 3 of the largest players in the retail garden centre arena and have already agreed evaluation programmes with them. We could not really have hoped for a better reception. “

Asked about the future development plans JP added “It has been a great year to date, but there is still lots of work to do. We need to continue to find global farmers and landscapers to run commercial demonstrations with, find investors to fund those demonstrations and scaling up production facilities as more orders are received.”