H2Ortigator [Horti-gator] – a horticultural irrigation system – is changing the game for growers with its precision irrigation, nutrition, and protection. Brendan Hamilton, the founder, is on a mission to solve a long-standing problem that has plagued orchardists and vineyard growers for years.

H2Ortigator is designed to assist commercial orchard and vineyard growers in managing replacement plants, such as young trees and vines that are planted when mature plants die.

“We apply targeted irrigation and nutrition for vigorous root growth in the young tree without affecting the mature trees,” says Hamilton.

This innovation aims to promote earlier orchard fruit yields while reducing tree mortality rates, resources required, and staff hours, he says.

The H2Ortigator solution addresses a key challenge in horticulture where young replacement trees require different care than mature ones. Orchardists seek to restrict growth in mature trees to channel energy into fruit production, while simultaneously seeking vigorous growth in the young replacement trees which requires more frequent irrigation and specific nutrition to promote early growth.

“Our unit automates that process through the existing irrigation system, allowing growers to treat young trees the way they should be treated while focusing on the mature crop-producing trees,” says Hamilton.

Apart from precise irrigation and nutrition, H2Ortigator offers valuable protection benefits, says Hamilton.

“It takes the place of a couple of other tasks in the orchard.”

Traditionally, growers employ plastic spray guards to protect young trees from herbicides and pests such as rabbits. H2Ortigator eliminates the need for these guards and enhances the overall efficiency of orchard management, while also highlighting the location of the high-risk replacement trees.

While New Zealand serves as the primary market for H2Ortigator, Hamilton is eyeing opportunities in counter-seasonal regions like California in the States to ensure year-round business. The company is actively seeking partnerships with potential investors to support its expansion into the California market.

“We’re in the beginning phases, working with Sprout [business accelerator programme] and touching base with some angel investor groups.”

Hamilton’s journey began during his six to seven years as a horticulture consultant in Hawke’s Bay, where he observed the struggles faced by growers with replacement trees.

“There was a very high death rate in those replacement trees. But the main problem was that production/yield was delayed by at least two to three seasons,” Hamilton recalls. Determined to find a solution, he embarked on two years of research and development.

Callaghan Innovation played a pivotal role by funding on-field testing, allowing Hamilton to fine-tune his product. After multiple iterations and invaluable feedback from growers, H2Ortigator emerged as a practical and efficient solution, and in July 2022 Hamilton founded his company and launched his unit.

The H2Ortigator can deliver water precisely where it’s needed, reducing waste and maximising plant health.

H2Ortigator has garnered recognition within the industry already, earning accolades such as the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers Fourneux Trophy for ‘Innovation in fruit growing’ and the Irrigation New Zealand ‘Innovation in Irrigation Award.’ These awards validate the significant impact of the product on tree growth and water savings, says Hamilton.

He emphasises that H2Ortigator’s success lies not just in its functionality but in its necessity. Current practices of manually caring for replacement trees are unsustainable in the long term, he says.

For Hamilton, the reason behind his motivation to keep going with his venture was the realisation that a solution was necessary, and that he had created something that could potentially turn into a commercially viable product.

“It wasn’t so much that it would work; it was more that we needed a solution [to the problem],” he explains.

His unrelenting pursuit to find a sustainable solution drove him to where he is today, he says.

If he could advise someone on the same journey? Get mentorship, collaborate with others, seek financial assistance from the likes of Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and have patience.

As H2Ortigator continues to gain traction, the company has applied for patents to protect its intellectual property in New Zealand and overseas.

The New Zealand horticulture industry’s value has soared to over $7 billion, driven by investments in new varieties, growing techniques, and post-harvest practices.

With revenue nearing $100,000, H2Ortigator is poised for further growth and expansion in the ever-evolving horticultural landscape.

Hamilton’s vision is not only changing the game for growers but also contributing to the continued growth and sustainability of the horticulture sector.

Story by Mina Amso In partnership with Sprout.

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