- NIFA, the USDA, and the SBIR/STTR programs have awarded Phase II funding to Cermetek Microelectronics, Inc. for a novel contactless plant water monitoring technology.
- This technology, called LeafMon, uses a Plant-based Water Stress Index (PWSI) metric to measure plant water status more precisely without invasive or destructive methods.
- The technology’s origin traces back to patented research from the University of California, Davis, led by Distinguished Professor Shrinivasa Upadhyaya.
- Cermetek’s LeafMon has demonstrated significant water savings and improved Water Use Efficiency (WUE) during Phase I testing in California orchards and vineyards.
- With Phase II funding, Cermetek aims to refine, commercialize, and offer this promising technology to precision agriculture markets, targeting crops like almonds, grapes, pistachios, and walnuts.
In a pioneering move toward revolutionizing agricultural water conservation, Cermetek Microelectronics, Inc. has secured Phase II funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs.
NIFA’s SBIR/STTR initiative is dedicated to fostering innovative solutions across various areas, including food science, nutrition, and the conservation of natural resources. Cermetek’s groundbreaking technology stood out among the competition, being one of just 42 projects selected for this esteemed Phase II grant.
Introducing the LeafMon System
Developed on a technology foundation from the University of California, Davis, and led by Distinguished Professor Shrinivasa Upadhyaya, the LeafMon system promises to redefine how we perceive plant hydration. Unlike conventional methods focusing solely on soil moisture or evapotranspiration metrics, the LeafMon system dives deeper. It introduces an innovative Plant-based Water Stress Index (PWSI), which captures a more comprehensive understanding of plant water status. This metric accurately mirrors a plant’s overall performance by incorporating factors like stress and plant acclimation processes that naturally fluctuate throughout different growth stages.
What sets LeafMon apart is its non-invasive approach. Traditional techniques often use dendrometers, micro-tensiometers, or destructive methods like Stem Water Potential (SWP). In contrast, Cermetek’s LeafMon provides a contactless proximal monitoring system, ensuring plants remain undisturbed.
Advancements Under SBIR Phase I
UC Davis recognized the potential of this transformative technology and granted an exclusive license to Cermetek. With the support of SBIR Phase I funding, Cermetek took strides in refining the technology. Enhancements included making the system more robust and cost-effective. Additionally, Cermetek expanded its utility by integrating interfaces for commercially available data acquisition systems. Trials conducted in Californian orchards and vineyards over recent years have revealed substantial water savings and a noteworthy improvement in Water Use Efficiency (WUE) through the Phase I LeafMon system.
The Road Ahead with Phase II Funding
As Cermetek moves into its next journey phase, it will focus on supplementary research and development activities. These will build upon the solid groundwork laid during Phase I. The ultimate objective is clear: deliver to the precision agriculture market a validated, economical product that not only curtails water demand but also amplifies water use efficiency, especially for critical crops such as almonds, grapes, pistachios, and walnuts.
The LeafMon system’s success could usher in a new era of sustainable agriculture, where precise water use aligns seamlessly with crop needs, ensuring a bountiful harvest while preserving our invaluable water resources.
Image provided by Cermetek