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Growing more with less. It’s one of the most challenging dilemmas today’s farmers face, especially as pressure mounts to reign in the use of products that help crops reach their full potential. Delivering herbicides and pesticides only where and when they’re needed means farmers and agribusinesses alike must think outside the box to explore alternatives.
“We were looking for other areas where we could use our Vortik technology. Agriculture happened to be one of those areas,” says Nathan Wrench, head of industrial product development at Cambridge Consultants. “By harnessing the power of a cyclone, Vortik allows different liquids to be mixed at the point of spray without altering the spray characteristics. Shear between swirling air and the liquids creates the desired droplet size for spraying. This technology opens up a range of new possibilities for crop protection.”
The company, which has laboratories in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Boston, Massachusetts, recently signed a licensing agreement with Syngenta, who plans to evaluate the potential of Vortik technology for ag and lawn care applications.
Crossing Over Into Ag
While it may seem odd for a chemical company to be interested in nozzle technology, Wrench says the issue Vortik solves in the personal care industry, which is what it was initially developed for, crosses over into Syngenta’s wheelhouse.
“Trying to match a formulation to a long shelf life is a classic problem in the personal care industry. It was interesting to see that same challenge being faced in agriculture,” he explains. “There are chemicals that look very interesting to companies like Syngenta but they, too, have a very limited shelf life. You can mix them with water, and the mixture starts to deterioriate almost immediately.”
With Vortik, applicators will have the ability to mix on demand and then immediately dispense the blend.
“We want the time between mixing and dispensing to be very, very short,” says Wrench. “It’s one of the features of the Vortik platform that seems to be particularly relevant.”
It’s not the only practice Syngenta is exploring. The company also is interested in spray quality at the point of application.
“For example, the ability to control particle size almost independently of flow rate – across a very wide operating range,” he says. “That might mean you could have one nozzle that does the work of three conventional nozzles.”
Of particular interest is having the ability to alter vehicle speed and not have to change nozzles.
“If you go around a corner, you can turn the weight down a little bit and get the same droplet pattern coming out, but you’re delivering a lower flow rate on the inside of the crops compared to those on the outside of the circle,” Wrench relates.
“Collaborating with partners to explore combinations of technologies that may address the challenges growers face is an important way of bringing added value to our customers,” says Leslie May, head of solutions innovation at Syngenta.
Changing a Mindset
There will always be a tendency to want to overdose rather than underdose.
“To back up growers, the technology and technology providers need to be able to demonstrate that they can maintain the same level of efficacy,” says Wrench. “Why would a farmer take a precautionary spray of an expensive, potentially hazardous chemical if he really doesn’t need to?”
Exploring technology like Vortik has the potential to make these things possible. “But it requires innovation at the nozzle level as well as at the sensor level,” concludes Wrench.
Initially, the two companies will perform trials in greenhouses. “It will be a little while before we take it outside to the fields,” notes Wrench.
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