2020-09-24 06:27The Hungry Mars Webinar: Potatoes Would Be the First Dish on Mars?2020-09-24 06:27More >22 September 2020, GUANGZHOU – The first-of-its-kind international webinar on Mars farming was hosted by XAG on 17 September to explore the possibility of growing food on the Red Planet, amid three daring probe missions on their way to Mars. Themed “The Hungry Mars”, this seminar featured plant scientists and agricultural experts from Wageningen University & Research, XAG, ID Capital Pte, and VCearth, diving deep into the solutions of growing crops with Martian soil, as well as developing a closed agricultural ecosystem on Mars through the use of autonomous farming technologies, such as drone, robot, and internet-of-things. The Hungry Mars Webinar panelA New Urgency for Sustainable Development The one-hour webinar opened up with expert views to reveal the hidden reasons behind the Mars farming exploration projects. Justin Gong, Co-founder of XAG, considered the Mars adventure as a strategic vision to solve sustainability issues. To ease the environmental, social tensions here on earth, humans need to have a higher mission, such as aiming eyes for the outer space. “Agriculture is now facing great challenges, such as rural aging population and lack of farming workforce, that would threaten human survival and existence. For example, in China, there are 12 million people moving from rural areas to cities every year, with no inclination to take over the tedious, laborious farm works from their old generations. This means that we need to figure out a solution of sustainably producing more food to feed the growing global population,” he said. “However, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and political uncertainties have been making the scenarios more complicated and multifaceted. If these problems keep exacerbating, it is possible that Earth might one day become as hostile as Mars. We need to take wise precautions early on and harness the power of technology to sustain human life in the future,” Justin Gong added. XAG's fully autonomous drone on crop spraying missionRiding the wave of industry 4.0 to transform the traditional agricultural production system, XAG develops smart agriculture technologies, including autonomous drones, unmanned ground vehicles, and IoT systems, that have been introduced to remote rural areas across 42 countries and regions. Having been tested under extreme conditions, these unmanned devices were specifically designed to operate in various types of complex, tough environments, no matter rugged terrains or waterlogged fields. As XAG is committed to providing the world with sufficient, diversified, and safe food, this mission reflects an ambitious goal that also benefits future Martians. The idea is to verify the flexibility and robustness of unmanned technologies in growing crops under simulated Mars circumstances. Isabelle Decitre, Founder & CEO of ID Capital Pte, has years of experience in agtech and foodtech investment and sees the innovative Mars farming solution as a product of multi-disciplinary fusion. “We could think of Mars as the extreme environment of Earth, which helps us take in new insights and push the limits of inventions to change the future of agriculture on Earth.” Martian Crops for a Self-sustaining Colony The webinar also delved into a mysterious topic for open discussion: Does the “The Martian” method of growing potatoes could work in reality and what are the crop species most likely to thrive on Mars? Dr. Wieger Wamelink, a senior plant ecologist of Wageningen University & Research addressed the questions by proving the feasibility of growing Martian crops, which suggests that the idea of living on Mars might no longer be just a sci-fi dream. Since 2013, Dr. Wamelink has been leading an innovative research project “Food for Mars and Moon” that, for the first time, utilises Mars soil stimulant provided by NASA to cultivate crops. So far, he and his team have made a significant breakthrough in successfully growing and harvesting nine different crop species, including rocket, tomato, radish, rye, peas, and leek, under greenhouse conditions. The simulation soils come from the volcano of Hawaii, whose texture and composition very resemble those of the real nutrient-poor Martian regolith, lacking in reactive nitrogen and containing a high level of heavy metal and perchlorates. It was previously believed that Martian soils were uninhabitable for plant growth.Growing crops with Martian soil stimulants in Wageningen University & Research “Back then, this was an untapped research area that prompted us to make bold innovations. We have conducted comparative experiments with 14 crop species, using Earth river sands as well as Mars and Moon soils stimulants mixed with organic matter as fertiliser. It turned out that the research went far more smoothly than we had expected. Some seeds started to germinate within only 24 hours, then flowered and borne fruits as usual as normal earth crops,” Dr. Wamelink explained. More surprisingly, the vegetables grown from Martian soil stimulants were tested to be safe to eat without traces of metals. He particularly pointed out that potatoes grew very well in the experiments. From the perspective of plant biology, this carbohydrate-rich vegetable is most likely to serve as the first dish if humans set foot on Mars, he added. “Potatoes not only taste good and show many health and nutrition benefits, but also easy to grow and take up less space. Even under greenhouse environment less desirable for plant growth, we could still harvest a batch of potatoes in 10 weeks. On Mars, all the construction works would be extremely costly and difficult, so it means a lot to secure food production if we could grow crops in large quantities with less space.” Unmanned Farming as Key Pathway to Turn Mars Green It is agreed that scarcity of agricultural labour would be a major challenge when it comes to terraforming Mars. This provides opportunities for the existing unmanned farming technologies on Earth to empower Martian farmers and increase food productivity on the Red Planet. According to Justin Gong, developing hands-free farms over the dreadful wildness of Mars first involves the construction of intelligent greenhouse, followed by the supply of fertile soils and water resources, with no exception to run through the entire agricultural production processes from seeding, crop management to harvest. Undoubtedly, this would require a large number of automated equipment. But the problem is that machine cannot be remotely controlled in real-time since it takes more than 20 minutes for radio signals to travel the distance between Earth and Mars. “In this case, we would need agricultural drones and robots that could operate fully autonomously and precisely to spray crops, spread fertilisers, and pollinate the plants. Meanwhile, the IoT and AI systems could collect and analyse multi-dimensional farm data on crop growth, soil condition, and microclimate to identify various problems, assisting future Martians with scientific farming decisions,” Gong said. The introduction of microorganisms and pollinators would also be required to create a sustainable closed-loop agricultural ecosystem on Mars. This is what Dr. Wamelink and his team attempt to investigate in the latest phase of Martian soil experiments, with focus on adding human urine as source of struvite to improve crop yield.XAG Agriculture IoT system operates in the desert area He argued that it was nearly impossible to grow crops on the open surface of Mars, because the atmosphere is too cold and thin to support life, with dangerous cosmic radiation and low gravity. “Crop cultivation could only be carried out in a smart greenhouse. We could consider introducing bumblebee as insect pollinators, while leveraging fungi, bacteria, and worms to decompose organic matters that allow recirculation of nutrients in the Martian soils. Future Martian would play an important role in this cycle where their faeces could be reused to stimulate crop growth,” he said. Dr. Wamelink has confirmed in his previous research that earthworm can survive and even reproduce in the Mars soil stimulants. As a professional venture capitalist, Isabelle Decitre concluded the discussion saying that these Mars farming exploration projects have immeasurable potential that is attracting a considerable amount of private funding. “But this kind of programmes should shoot for government funding, as now many countries are willing to invest lots of money in space research and development. For example, Germany spends billions of Euro every year in this realm.”
2020-09-02 22:20XAG Explained with Economics of Mutuality: How Agtech Drives Post-COVID Business Growth?2020-09-02 22:20More >GUANGZHOU, September 1, 2020 - Co-hosted by Mars Economics of Mutuality (EoM) Foundation and the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China), the international seminar themed Why Does Purpose as A Strategy Make A Difference in Today’s Post-COVID World was held online on August 27. Leading experts from Mars EoM Foundation, XAG, VISA China, and YouChange China Social Entrepreneur Foundation was brought together with other hundreds of business leaders to discuss how the primacy of purpose could transform business performance across the people, planet, and profit equation. Justin Gong, Co-founder of XAG shared the power of unmanned agriculture technologies as profitable solutions to the relevant social and environmental problems in the global food system. Panelist introductionThis seminar is part of the Mars EoM program series, which aims to explore a more sustainable and inclusive path forward that helps business thrive in the post-COVID era. Based on fifteen years of in-depth academic research and business practice, the Economics of Mutuality is a ground-breaking management innovation that empowers companies to seek a purpose that goes beyond profit maximisation. It was developed within Mars, Incorporated in collaboration with Oxford University and other top academic institutions. Create Purpose-centric Values with Drones and Robots Alan Beebe, the President of AmCham China expressed at the opening remark that the COVID-19 pandemics has introduced unprecedented challenges and opportunities to companies worldwide. There is a new urgency for business to consider how emerging digital technologies can lead to the achievement of the economics of neutrality goals. With the mission of advancing agriculture, XAG is an agriculture technology company which has been putting the EoM values into practice. Unlike many other companies addressing their positive impacts through separate charity or corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, XAG is born with CSR embedded and empowers millennial generation with drones and robots to reshape the agriculture landscape. Experts from AmCham China, Mars EoM Foundation, XAG, VISA China, and YouChange China Social Entrepreneur Foundation“Our business naturally has a purpose, which is based on solving environmental and rural development issues such as the loss of biodiversity and aging farming population. We develop agricultural drones, farming robots, IoT systems, and smart agriculture farm management software to conduct field works as tedious and dangerous as seeding, spraying pesticides, and crop scouting. In this case, the young generation farmers can focus more on managing agricultural inputs and making decisions to optimise the production workflow,” Justin Gong, Co-founder of XAG said. XAG’s smart agriculture solutions can not only help farmers improve productivity through autonomous operations, but also generate higher profits for smallholders and farm owners. Drones and robots are cost-effective, eco-friendly tools of precision agriculture, conserving water and reducing the use of pesticides while closing yield gap to ensure food security. Mutuality as A New Force to Boost Economic Resilience Inclusive collaboration and profit sharing are the key paths forward to promote mutuality business growth. For example, XAG has been working with local government in China to build digital farming infrastructure that paves the way for standardised operations of unmanned agricultural equipment, as well as the hands free farms. XAG XMission Survey drone takes high definition field maps“Just like people in the city have grown accustomed to calling a taxi or ordering a meal with their smartphone, farmers in rural areas can also order drones and robots from their service providers to implement the fieldwork. This is easily achieved by using the lightweight survey drone to take high-definition field maps on the farm. In the meantime, we provide technical training for young generation to help them better adapt to the age of big data,” Justin Gong explained. This shows that XAG is more than designing new tools and products for the company itself, but to create a smart agriculture ecosystem for the whole society that connects farmers, producers, and consumers. XAG Agricultural UAS spread seeds on paddy fields during this spring plantingMutuality as a new form of sustainable, inclusive growth model can be a powerful force to increase business resilience under crisis. This March in China, when the coronavirus outbreak exacerbated rural labour shortages and threatened to disrupt the spring planting season, XAG leveraged its nationwide distribution and service network to successfully seed million hectares of rice fields with drones. “In this critical period, we launched an online program that trained farmers to become drone pilots. And we also worked with the seed company to develop special coatings for rice seeds that could be directly broadcast by our drones,” Gong said. Rice seeds that could be directly broadcast by droneIn this seminar, Bruno Roche, Former Chief Economist, Founder and Executive Director of Economics of Mutuality, Mars Incorporated, concluded that the purpose of business should not remain at pursuing higher financial performance. Instead, businesses should seek to drive holistic value creation for all stakeholders in their respective ecosystem. This is about adopting a responsible and more complete form of capitalism that is fairer and performs better than the purely financial version operating today. So far, the mutuality business model has been soundly verified across different countries and regions. “As companies are being tested by this COVID crisis, they should build bridges, not the walls, to let social, human, natural and shared financial capital to flow, making the world economy more resilient to uncertainties such as climate change and pandemics,” Gong said.
2020-08-16 08:50Aspiring Millennial Step up with XAG Drone for Australia’s Fertile Soils2020-08-16 08:50More >Bundaberg, Australia, August 14, 2020 – After three years of intense drought and months of bushfire devastation that had badly battered the continent, Australia now speeds up its recovery gazing into a long-awaited bumper harvest from the resurgent winter cropping season. Among the various technologies tending the expanded size of sown areas, drones designed by XAG are on track to take the pressure off chemical use and water scarcity. They get into the difficult-to-access cropping areas which used to be left in ruin, while spreading seeds to restore the overgrazed pasture. Australian drone pilot Jamin Fleming with his XAG agricultural drones The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has forecast the winter crop yield to be 44.5 million tonnes in 2020–21, which is 11 percent above the average annual level of the past ten years. This is owing to the favourable weather conditions, as rain began falling steadily and soil developed a good moisture profile. Despite the COVID-19 pandemics keeps presenting challenges amid a second wave, agriculture has shown strong resilience, becoming one of the few bright spots of Australia’s economic activities. Sales of agricultural machinery are booming, as well as farmers’ demand for crop protection services. Heed the call of countryside Jamin Fleming, a fledgling drone entrepreneur based in Bundaberg, south-east Queensland, has been working flat out between farms since June, to provide aerial treatment on pests, weeds, and crop diseases. He is among the tech-savvy, keen millennial generation who passionately embrace a fulfilling career in agriculture. Unlike other parts of the world with an ageing farming population, Australia has seen a return of young talents into the countryside, either inheriting the land to be the next generation of farmers, working for farm businesses as farmhands, managers, and agronomists, or starting their own companies as service providers. An insight snapshot from ABARES has highlighted that more people are now entering into the agricultural workforce, with the proportion of those under 35 years old is on the rise. “Australia’s agricultural workforce is getting a lot younger now, because I think a lot of young people don’t want to be in an office or doing the same thing every day. Agriculture has a great range and the technology is getting better every day,” said by Fleming. Since Australia’s agriculture is a significantly volatile industry plagued by harsh, unpredictable weather conditions, innovations are desperately needed from these new faces to help manage the enormous risks of climate change.Drone spraying demonstration for local farms in Lockyer Valley, Queensland Growing up in a large cattle farm, Fleming upholds the history and culture of Australia’s agriculture, but also breathes new life into the social, environmental side of its sustainability. With a whole set of XAG’s agricultural drone gear, he founded his own agribusiness Oztech Drones to exploit the huge untapped potential of drone technology, specific to Australia’s vulnerable farmland. Fleming has been closely working with XAG, an agri-tech company and one of the world’s largest drone makers, to dismiss farmers’ suspicions and scale up drone applications across the state of Queensland. “The biggest challenge I find is people find it hard to believe that our drones can do what we say they will do. Hence why I often drive and take time out of my day to visit potential clients to show them what we can do, and then they are always blown away with what we are able to achieve,” he said. The sustainable macadamia nuts Until recent weeks, Jamin Fleming has been working with Queensland’s local growers, such as Redrock and Suncoast Gold Macadamias, on a series of trials to apply fungicides and fertilisers with XAG’s drones on macadamia trees. The Australian macadamia industry, with a farm-gate output value of AUD 267 million in 2019, has been leading the world in its adoption of sustainable farming practices and climate-resilient productivity. Macadamia tree spraying trials for uses of fertiliser and fungicides Macadamia trees have the natural ability to optimise water consumption, adapt to dry condition, and absorb substantially higher amount of carbon, suggesting in-built sustainability unmatched by many other crops. According to the Australian Macadamia Society, each year 70% of its macadamia crops, as confectionary and healthy snacks, are exported to over 40 countries, while this constitutes 30% of the global production. However, tractor-mounted spray cannons are still widely used as the spray tool for pest and disease management in macadamia orchards. As the industry is committed to minimising its carbon output, the use of heavy diesel machinery should be further limited, and this creates an untapped area where drone-based solutions from XAG can reduce 30% chemical use and conserve up to 90% water. Fleming sheds light on how drones facilitate precision agriculture. “We first mapped an area of the farm out using the XMission survey drone and found the trees that were lacking in health. Then, we sent the crop protection drone just to spray those specific trees rather than the entire crops as normal spray rigs would do.” With this fully autonomous drone, farmers can even target at individual plants and skip the spacing between trees. “We found the spraying drone can spiral over larger trees with better coverage of the whole canopy. Also, you can pre-program the drone to conduct hover spray over the smaller trees, which is more efficient,” he said. Atomisation spraying effect of XAG agricultural drone Results from the trial phase also showed that droplets were broken down into tiny particles of different sizes that could reach the lower foliar of the macadamia trees. The big picture here is trying to help macadamia growers prioritise the protection of water, minimise pesticide usage from traditional techniques, and eliminate possible chemical drifts. Given that water shortage has been a persistent issue in Australia, such benefits of drone applications should be seen across the entire agriculture industry which accounts for three quarters of total water use. Fly over the toughest places Though as an industry newcomer, Fleming’s drone business has really taken off to accumulate field experience on a wide variety of crops, including grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Fleming said drones can flex their muscles over complicated terrains, where large manned machinery such as tractors or helicopters find it difficult to handle the operation. He has just contracted to one of the largest sweet potato growers in Australia, managing invasive weeds with XAG drones in all their channels, hard-to-reach areas and around the dams. “We also help them with controlling weeds around water hydrants in the middle of fields. In one field, there could be 50 hydrants which a tractor used to drive through damaging the crop to get to these hydrants. Now using the XMission drone we can survey the entire field, find the hydrants, and send the spray drone out to only target the hydrant,” he said. Thanks to this nimble, flexible technology, any crop damage is eliminated to help farmers close their yield gaps. XMission survey drone photographed digital field map on strawberries With a good drop of rain and mild temperature, many farmers in Australia are very thrilled to have one of their best cropping seasons in lifetime. Yet, a long-unseen wet winter also brings another big problem to disease management on waterlogged areas after rain. Eyes on the issue, Fleming has also started working with fruit growers on strawberries. “Some of their fields have low area in them which after rain or excess watering are inaccessible by tractor. And therefore, pesticides and fungicides cannot be applied leaving the strawberry plants prone to diseases and pests. We come in and identify the low areas and then spray them all with applications recommended by the agronomist.”Drone loaded with containers full of grass seeds While looking to create a pest suppressive landscape, drones can be of great use in Australia’s 332 million hectares of livestock farms which is 10 times the size of land used for crops. As overgrazing, drought, and the warmer climate have been turning pasture into degraded land, demand for pasture seeding is growing, now added onto Fleming’s long list of pilot jobs. The modular design of spray drone allows it to switch into a “flying spreader” within minutes when embarked on a custom spreading attachment. “Depending on the application rate, we can seed up to 15 hectares an hour. Now hopefully we get some more rain at the end of the week to help it sprout,” he said. It is hoped that the more precise, safer method of distributing grass seeds would be scaled up to rehabilitate the fertile land of Australia.