From John Deere to Aqua4D: Meet the Agtech Expert Bringing Water Savings and Efficiency to the Central Valley

After many years at John Deere’s Green Tech division, Gregory Ireland has joined the growing Aqua4D California team. Here we found out how his wealth of agtech experience will help bring this efficient water-smart technology to more and more growers in the Central Valley and beyond.

What convinced you to make the move from John Deere to Aqua4D?

Gregory: Well what brought me here was the huge competitive differentiation of the product – there’s no one out there that does what Aqua4D does. That was a big stimulus for me, and the more I looked into it the more interested I became.

Before that, I’d been working at John Deere Green Tech for over 14 years in irrigation technology. Water and soils are my true love, besides my family! I’m all about technology, water and soils, and that’s what Aqua4D is to me.

What experience can you bring from your time at John Deere to this new role?

Gregory: Well agriculture runs through my entire life – whether it’s working on the farms with my grandfather here in the Central Valley, or back in Wisconsin. The experience of being on a farm taught me just how precious water is to a farmer, and the care of their soil, because that’s what makes crops grow: soil and water. My time at John Deere taught me one crucial thing: the connection a farmer has with his farm.  It’s the thing he’s invested his entire life in and he wants to make sure it’s passed on to the next generation as healthy as he received it.

Do you see any parallels between John Deere and Aqua4D?

Gregory: Yes, absolutely: cutting-edge technology. That’s what we were always pursuing at John Deere Green Tech, and that’s the prime example of what they do every day at Aqua4D, cutting-edge technology.

So what were your first impressions of this Aqua4D technology?

Gregory: One word: overwhelming. The technology that was developed by Walter Thut and the company’s forefathers is truly overwhelming. I firstly had to take a step back and research some things like zeta potential, and Dr. Gerald Pollack’s research at the University of Washington which always talks about the ‘Fourth Phase” of water (solid, liquid, solid, EZ zone), I was blown away by this.

Could you explain a little more about that?

Gregory: Well the zeta potential was measured by a French university – it’s the electric charges at the interface where water comes into contact with other materials, and that’s also the so-called ‘exclusion zone’ (EZ). Dr. Pollack’s research lab has shown the separation of salts here in this exclusion zone, leaving pure water. (see here for Pollack’s TED talk on the topic).

Sharing thoughts with Aqua4D’s CTO

Checking out an Aqua4D installation in the Central Valley, California

What potential do you see for the Aqua4D system in California?

Gregory: Well, water savings are needed throughout California, whether it’s almonds or stone fruits like we grow along the east side here in the Central Valley. Almonds are a fairly water intensive crop, but the water savings which can be brought about by the technology of Aqua4D is tremendous, that’s how I see it. Not as much water is needed, and the added efficiency of this product to the water planning, water budget, and irrigation scheduling of farmers is a win-win all round.

Could you tell us some more about the importance of water savings for almonds in particular?

Gregory: Well almonds are the largest grown crop here in California and they also have a fairly high water consumption, so of course if Aqua4D is treating a large amount of almonds crops here in the Central Valley, the water efficiency impact will be bigger than with any other crop.

How exactly does this system bring about such water savings?

Gregory: Out in the field, what I’ve seen is that the retention of the water within the soil is so much more than in non-treated areas. And secondly that leads to better sap flow uptake of the water in the root zone up through the tree/plant; the systemic uptake is just tremendous. So on the one hand there’s a higher retention of the irrigated water, and on the other, there is more uptake, so this makes the whole irrigation process with Aqua4D more efficient.

What results excite you the most so far? 

Gregory: Well, that’s definitely the findings on soil salinity, between treated/non-treated plots – we’re seeing almost 10x reduction in soil salinity and electroconductivity within the plots treated by Aqua4D, and that was just mind-blowing for me. This was due to huge reductions in calcium, magnesium, and sodium chloride (more info here)

It’s a Swiss technology, does that mean it’s expensive?  

Not necessarily. We’ve got to focus here on the increased yields due to the technology – if yields are over 30% higher, as is often the case, there is Return on Investment in less than a year. This makes it an extremely interesting proposition for investing in, and something that growers here are doing, becoming increasingly convinced that it’s bringing these benefits.

What do you think sets Aqua4D apart from other agtech innovations?

Gregory: Well we have lots of interesting new ag technologies, but most of them I’d say are to do with measuring and analyzing, not actually bringing an improvement in the process itself.  Aqua4D is one of the only new technologies right now which is bringing water reductions directly, not only through monitoring and measurements etc.

What do you see are the potentials of Ag 4.0 and new technologies in general?

Gregory: Furthering the saving potentials of water – the world’s most precious resource.  Especially here in California with the long recent drought and the potential for further droughts, technologies which help save water have an absolutely huge potential.

So what have you got coming up over the next 6-12 months in California?

Gregory: There’ll be a lot of continuing outreach to the growing community here in the Central Valley, especially almond growers, with new ones continually coming on board. We also want to set up first installations for citrus fruits and vineyards, which will run in parallel with building up the almond market. We also intend to approach some of the biggest market players, because these are the ones who, once convinced, are really pushing new technologies.

More on Aqua4D for almond crops:

Field Reference (PDF) , Interview with almond grower on water use.

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John Deere & Aqua4D:
united by cutting-edge technology

with CEO Eric Valette at the Swiss HQ