Finding the spark to a new way to manage pests, weeds
In 2013, Crisp and two other cofounders stumbled by accident upon the idea of using electricity for pest removal. Ekaterini Riga, a Lisi co-founder and nematologist, was trying to study nerve impulses in nematodes using a patch amplifier. Every time she used the device, she would accidentally kill her specimen.
With his electronic engineering background, Crisp worked to fix the issue, and in the process, realised that this technology might be a helpful tool in helping farmers manage pests in the field.
“It got me thinking as to why [aren’t] we using this as a potential control strategy of using electricity directly applied to the organism to control it, and [I] did a real quick back-of-the envelope calculation and realised that it was technically feasible, and thus began this 10-12 year journey of figuring out how to do this in the field.”
Over the years, Lisi demonstrated the capability of its chemical-free directed energy system through peer-reviewed publications and working with academics, Crisp noted. The company is currently looking to boost the adoption of its technology and pricing it comparable to pesticides.
“There's definitely room for development, but we're pricing this and applying it in rates that are equivalent to what the current chemistry that they're using is. I mean that's our target. It depends on the pest profile. It depends on the cropping system, and that's what's making [us] start with more small footprint, high-value crops like small berry fruits, vegetables, things like that aren't the big three of corn, soybeans, [and] wheat.”
Addressing challenges from global warming, moving away from pesticides
Lisi’s technology can also be adapted to eliminate other pests, as pest management becomes an increasingly difficult task for farmers due to global warming, Crisp explained. In the US state of Washington, wine producers are currently fighting off phylloxera insects, which are more prevalent now “because there's not a hard freeze,” he added.
“The entire wine industry in Washington state over the next 50 years is looking at replanting every single wine grapevine that's in the valley with phylloxera-resistant rootstock and then grafting on the varietals that they would like. So, that's an example of that shifting profile of integrated pest management that these [farmers] are having to deal with.”
Farmers aren’t only facing pest management challenges, but the “chemistry that was previously available and effective is being regulated out of use because it's very toxic, and it builds up in the environment,” he added.
“Their ability to access effective chemistry is being reduced, while these pest pressures are getting more challenging, and that's and that's where we come in as a completely different approach, a different mode of action, a non-chemical treatment that has efficacy,” Crisp said. “[We] try and deploy it in whatever cropping system that you're talking about in a way that [fits into] already existing practices that they do whether it's cultivation or during planting or during harvesting. So that’s our access to the market is really being driven by a lack of good alternatives to these challenges.”