Water conservation is on everyone’s mind these days as the “blue economy” steps into the lime light. One big part of that initiative is farmland and graze land water conservation. After all Agriculture accounts for, on average, 70 percent of all water withdrawals globally, according to the World Bank.

One Milan, Italy-based start up, BlueTentacles is looking to give that wider initiative a boost. Grit Daily caught up with Marco Bezzi – CEO and co-founder of the company to learn more about how BlueTentacles is spearheading water conservation at co-ops and global farms.

Grit Daily: There are so many opportunities in agtech. Why start with water conservation and efficiency? 

Marco Bezzi: From water begins everything. 

Water needs to be used with more and more efficiency to provide the 60 percent increase in food we need to deliver in 2050 for the ever-growing world population.

In 2050 we will face the problem of 20 percent less of arable land per person and a 25 percent deficit in water supply demand. Rationing water could  become mandatory — especially in agriculture — where demand is greatest. World wide there are already 300 million hectares of land already equipped with an irrigation system.

Most of those irrigation systems are surface or sprinkler systems and just nine million hectares are more advanced and efficient drip irrigation systems. The first action that has to be taken is the transformation of systems from high water consuming systems (surface and sprinkler) to high efficiency systems (drip irrigation).

The second action is to introduce a real improvement in the water management for all of those systems. It is time to stop irrigating with time-based scheduled programs.

It is time for precision irrigation. — Marco Bezzi, CEO at BlueTentacles.

BlueTentacles is a cost-reduction retrofit solution to transform traditional irrigation plants into precision irrigation systems.

GD: Where does your software work best? 

MB: BlueTentacles is based on a device and software as a service (Saas) acquiring information from the BlueTentacles’ artificial intelligence.

BlueTentacles algorithms are set up to work worldwide for any crops integrating different input data: humidity and temperature from sensors, climate data from meteorology stations, satellite data and meteorology forecast models.

BlueTentacles’ solution is scalable world wide and the best places to run it are all the places in the world where is possible to acquire that data.

But also when it is not possible to get all the data, BlueTentacles can provide useful information from satellite and meteorology forecasts to farmers to improve their irrigation behavior and help them save water and energy.

Our initial market is Italy where our team has a simplified entry point thanks to the previous experience of the team working on irrigation tech for the last years.

GD: What makes most solutions so “cost prohibitive?”

MB: Most solutions are “cost prohibitive” because their objective is to build a new automation control for irrigation systems, while BlueTentacles aims to keep as much as of the existing irrigation infrastructure intact and more simply retrofit it.

Major brands in the irrigation sector are still stuck with old technology, especially in terms of data transfer processes and the use of a diffuse network of sensors on the fields remain be too expensive.

BlueTentacles is based on a low power and low cost network enabling farms to collect data from the fields and to use that data — first for farmers — and second  for all the industries related to the irrigation sector.

BlueTentacles’ solution is profitable for farmers not only for the water and energy saving performance but also for the cost reduction of our solution saving up to 50% of a new irrigation installation.

GD: For the uninitiated, what is “precision agriculture?” What are the current, typically used “hourly schedules?”

MB: Precision agriculture is a concept and is based on the use of the most modern technologies and IoT solution observing, monitoring and responding with precise agricultural intervention calibrated on the intra and inter variability of crops.

Precision agriculture starts from the precision irrigation: the smart use of water in agriculture using sensors, satellite, meteorology data and forecast models.

In the last few years we’ve seen an effort to transform sprinkler irrigation systems to drip irrigation system and there has been an improvement in the hydraulic efficiency of the entire system.

Unfortunately all those irrigation system are still working with a concept of traditional irrigation: the irrigation cycle starts every day on the hour — also during rainy days and before and after enough rainfall.

This hourly scheduled programing need to be replaced with a more efficient irrigation inputs provided by artificial intelligence with the aim to irrigate only when it’s necessary.

GD: What’s behind the Blue Tentacles name? 

MB: Blue like the water and Tentacles like the many connections of our network able to acquire different kind of data and to control many hydro valves in the field. We do like to establish new partnerships — especially with new emerging start-ups in the agritech sector and each one of our connection is like one of our tentacles. Once we find a good connection we strengthen it to grow faster and stronger in a new synergy paradigm.

Many tentacles can be very powerful and there is no fear to face “big fish” in the ocean because we are fast, market adaptable and the blue ocean is our favorite environment.

Behind the name there is wish to answer climate change and our solution for a sustainable future.

GD: Let’s talk numbers. How big is the team. What does the revenue picture look like? 

MB: The three cofounders have worked for twenty years in the farming and irrigation sector at different levels and they want to use all their past experience to introduce a new irrigation solution for water and energy saving in agriculture. Marco Bezzi is the irrigation expert; Silvano Pisoni is the hydraulic engineer and Carlo Pellegrini is the irrigation technician.

There are supported by a dream-team: Giulia and Paolo for the project management, Giulia for the artificial intelligence, Daniele and Giacomo for ICT and Federico e Francesco for electronic development.

We are approaching now the early adopters phase and we expect the break even point in 2020 with a two million EBTDA in 2021. Our KPIs are “metric cubes” of water saved and kilowatt-hours of energy saved addressing SDGs on clean water and sanitation and the responsible use of resources.

Looking for more Agtech coverage at Grit Daily? Check out our piece on Aerobotics.