Combining technology and engineering to solve growers irrigation challenges
Waikato-based agritech start-up RH Innovation is using home-grown technology to solve real problems for farmers in Aotearoa.
RH Innovation are focused on soil moisture measurement technology that helps farmers and agricultural growers apply the right amounts of nitrogen or water for optimal farm performance while reducing costs and environmental impact. Co-founders Rahat Hasan and Tyler Crabtree (Ngai Te Rangi, Te Arawa, Ngati Awa, Ngapuhi) head up the growing team based in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton). “
Soil moisture is only one of the pathways they could explore. “There are hundreds of other existing ‘solutions’ that do not adequately solve the problem,” Rahat says.
The soil moisture sensors project started while the team was working with a company based in Japan that maintained 200 golf courses. “We started looking at on shelf moisture sensors and existing technology but soon found that these existing solutions were not adequate enough for what they were trying to do,” Tyler says.
Rahat adds, “There were times that we were measuring soil moisture for hours and hours and all we were getting is noisy data.”
After approaching soil moisture experts at Autogrow and the University of Waikato to verify what they saw was correct, the team realised the bigger opportunity. Rahat says, “We found it wasn’t just us, it’s a broad problem that exists everywhere in the Agritech space. If you are growing anything and can’t time your irrigation properly, you will end up with damaged crops and nitrate leaching.”
While typical moisture sensors give the farmer an arbitrary reading in volumetric water content, RH Innovation’s moisture sensor has an AI capability that tells the farmer when to turn his pump on and when to turn his pump off. Rahat says, “That’s the information that the farmer needs. He doesn’t need to go through all this data and figure it out himself.”
RH Innovation is getting ready to complete trials with five companies in the horticulture market in the next few months. After trialling in the horticulture market, the startup is looking to adapt the product for the dairy and irrigation markets locally and have ambitions of taking the solution international.
Joining Rahat and Tyler on the programme are Bismarck Simeon (CTO – External Hardware), Daniel Wood (CTO – Software) and Isaac Read (Machine Learning Engineer), Mohammed Kariri (International Distributor), and Cooper Stephenson (CMO).
The Kōkiri business accelerator has challenged the team to revisit what has already been achieved by the early-stage start-up. “We hadn’t done a customer interview before. We now have a understanding of the product-market fit, have mapped out who our customers are and how to approach them,” Rahat says.
“It’s good to get challenged because then you start thinking in different ways,” Tyler says. “Our narrative before the programme was focused on dairy, and now we are thinking of new customers and different channels to market.”
The support from their dedicated Kōkiri business coach and the advisory group formed at the start of the programme has been invaluable for the mostly subject-matter-expert team. “We don’t come from a traditional business background,” says Tyler. “When we were struggling, Kōkiri delivery team and coaches are always around, 24/7 to help you. It’s good to get that support because business is hard, it’s very hard.”