The question began with: is there a technology-based solution that effectively reduces nematode populations in infested soils? The answer is, yes. After eight years and four iterations, Directed Energy (DE) technology was developed by AgTech startup, Lisi Global, Inc. The cofounder and CEO, Jason Crisp, working with nematologist Ekaterini Riga, PhD, and COO, Jeffery McComb, together patented Direct Energy System (DES), to effectively reduce nematode populations in increasing volumes of infested soil.
For more than a century, chemicals have been the most effective tool used to control pests of all kinds, but that tool devolved into the proverbial hammer; now every problem is a nail. In other words, innovation outside of chemistry hasn’t kept up. When there is a pest that needs to be controlled, growers try everything in the available playbook to manage the problem, but eventually, they’re forced to resort to chemicals.
Chemicals play a massive and important role in agriculture and food production, as there are a lot of problems that are mitigated by chemicals. But when it comes to soil pest and pathogen management, chemicals have always struggled to achieve, and especially maintain, efficacy while being mindful of their long-term impact on the environment. Balancing efficacy and persistence is where chemicals struggle most. If it is effective, chances are it persists too long in the soil and is harmful to the crop or the environment. There hasn’t been a new, effective chemical treatment for nematodes in nearly a decade, and there isn’t anything in the pipeline that holds any promise. Until now...
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Ag markets that have had to rethink their pest management strategy because the chemicals they rely on to manage nematodes are no longer approved, efficacious, or available. Golf and sports turf are no exception. In fact, of all the Ag segments that struggle with nematodes (and other soil pests) turf is the only one that actually has effective chemistry to manage infestations…sort of. What is effective is often limited to one or two soil pests and must be automatically applied at the max rate with regular reapplication. These nematicides are often applied in conjunction with other chemicals and this process requires re-entry delays of hours to days, pests develop resistance over time, and the list of downsides continues. But chemistry is all they have. Until now…
Directed Energy Technology was developed as a non-chemical solution to eliminate soil pests in agriculture. It fills the void left by chemicals that have been phased out or lack broad-spectrum efficacy. The benefits of the technology are numerous. Because it’s non-chemical, the technology can be used in fallow or planted soil making it a perfect fit for golf and sports turf, small berry fruit, orchards, or any Ag segment that relies on long-standing plants to produce their commodity year after year.
Direct|Turf is the first Directed Energy (DE) soil amendment to be introduced to the market. Focusing on turf is an obvious first market because of the struggle managing infestations on a crop that remains in place for years, but turf also provides an R&D benefit of nearly immediate results. Where chemicals are applied and maintained to achieve the desired visual effect over the long term, a Direct|Turf treatment will see improvement in a few days and follow up treatments (two to three times a year depending on the region) will ensure the infestations are extremely slow to return.
Direct|Yield is a DE soil amendment for long-standing agricultural crops such as small berry, orchards, vineyards, etc., that struggle to manage infestations of nematodes and soil-borne insects that steadily reduce yield year after year. Currently, when infestations reach economic threshold, growers may rip out entire acres and replant. Direct|Yield can eliminate this expensive practice.
Directed Energy soil amendments use specialized equipment that makes contact with the soil to apply the treatment. The technology utilizes sophisticated energy storage modules (often called batteries) to provide front-end power. The batteries can be recharged and maintained by solar panels on the system’s battery-powered tractor or plugged into a standard electrical outlet. This eliminates the need for a fossil fuel tractor or generator thus making the treatments carbon neutral.
The Lisi Global family of Directed Energy soil amendments will include Direct|Organic for the highly specialized needs of the organic grower. Direct|Batch for in-house treatment of batch-processed seedlings and starts, and soil or other growing media for greenhouses to ensure only clean rootstock leaves the facility.
Today, Lisi Global is focused on Ag segments and commodities with a smaller footprint. But R&D is looking ahead to expand applications to large area row crops like vineyards and vegetables, and to develop other beneficial and synergistic aspects of the technology that have been identified. The potential is seemingly endless for this breakthrough technology and as the company deploys Direct|Turf on the west coast later this year, the development opportunities will help fast-track deployment of the other Directed brands.
For farmers and growers around the globe, tackling pests and pathogens is an historic struggle of epic proportions and with increases in insect resistance to chemicals, banned fumigants, like methyl bromide, plus a global awareness around environmental/sustainable practices, it’s a wonder we have golf courses to enjoy and strawberries to eat year-round!
Technology arrives on the scene, once again, to showcase how innovation provides positive outcomes and earth-conscious alternatives. Lisi Global is a Pacific Northwest-based company founded by a nematologist, an electrical engineer and a former project manager for professional race car teams. In what turned out to not be a lab accident, Lisi Global utilizes energy to eradicate nematodes and other plant parasites with its patented Directed Energy System (DES) technology.
Chemistry has long been a solution for taming insects, pathogens and other species committed to the destruction of our human food chain. As history shows, humankind has been struggling against insects for growing our food since our humblest beginnings. The progress of science and technology in the 20th century changed our capacity for food production. “The primitive tools now had scientific reasoning to explain their efficacy and identify their chemical formulations, moving them from the realm of natural extracts to synthesized pesticides, and signaling the rise of the chemical pesticide revolution” (From “The Evolution of Chemical Pesticides”). Pesticides were the only way to reduce crop damage, feed an increasing human population and allow for more land to be utilized for farmers and growers.
Plant-parasitic nematodes are on the rise in turf, berry trees and wine vineyards with significant populations in nearly every cropping system in the world. They feed on the roots of plants, decreasing plant vigor, and dramatically reducing crop yield. The damage caused by these pests interferes with the root system's ability to access and uptake nutrients and water. This unseen damage results in increased resource use as water and fertilizers are applied in increasing amounts to overcome the decreased efficiency of the damaged root system. Nematodes are persistent and are estimated to cause more than $100 billion in global crop losses annually. They threaten global food security by severely impacting agriculture's ability to sustainably increase productivity to feed an ever-increasing human population.
Lisi Global offers a chemical-free alternative to relying solely on nematicides to improve crop (and turf) outcomes, and understands the growing need to increase our global reliance on alternative energy solutions.
Lisi’s technology offers substantial benefits over every synthetic chemical developed for nematode or pathogen management, the drawbacks to which are numerous:
Lisi Global’s technology, utilizing electricity as our means to mitigate pathogens in turf and soils, works synergistically with chemicals and can stop the increase of chemical usage, positively affecting how we think of pest mitigation in general. The synergistic equation looks like this: based on what we now know of chemical usage and their decrease in efficacy on crops and turf, Directed Energy technology works to increase chemical efficacy while reducing their frequency and volume.
And we can look at it this way: Lisi’s DES technology works symbiotically with chemical applications to create more effective outcomes (reduction in pathogens) in the turf or on plant roots. The history of chemicals and pesticides is certainly long and complex but the benefit of our technology is that there is finally a co-corroborator on the scene that enhances the efficacy of current chemical compounds (and reduces the amounts of chemicals applied), to assist with “cleaning” the soil with a short pulse of high voltage electricity and an instant eradication of the nematodes that were within range at the time of application.
The fight against methyl bromide in California strawberry fields (see “wilted” info below) is certainly another crop that has seen an ongoing struggle with chemical fumigants. The struggle with pests and pesticides IS complex and growing even more so with the increased usage of chemicals along with pest’s resistance; the equation does not bode well for farmers, growers or the environment.
Our DES, along with a crop-specific conveyance implement, creates a unique method of delivering tailored doses of energy into the soil to target pests and fungal pathogens to reduce their populations with/without the use of chemicals. The carbon neutral implementation uses solar-powered batteries to move the technology across turf grasses or along crops. For wine growers, and certainly those in our home state of Washington, there is NO chemical or other solution for controlling pathogens except plucking the commodity (ie. throwing away thousands of dollars worth of time, money and materials once an evasive pathogen has begun embedding itself into the grape roots).
From golf turf to strawberry seedling soil to wine vineyards, Lisi’s technology is indeed a positive step forward in our human struggle to fight plant pests and pathogens. Lisi’s technology improves turf and crop health by eradicating the pathogens from the treated soil, offers immediate results (with no down time for the golf course owner) for farmers or growers alike.
Guthman, J. 2019. Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry. University of California Press: Oakland, California.