US beverage and snack giant PepsiCo has tapped Israeli drip irrigation company N-Drip for a new partnership aimed at helping farmers who grow crops for Pepsi’s range of brands adopt drip irrigation technology for better yield and water conservation, the parties announced this week.
N-Drip’s Chief Sustainability Officer Seth Siegel told The Times of Israel that the partnership was the “result of more than two years running pilot projects in India, Vietnam, and the USA, followed by extensive discussions on how best to scale the implementation across PepsiCo’s supply chain.” Founded in 2015 by Prof. Uri Shani, a former director of Israel’s Water Authority, with Ariel Halperin and Ran Ben-Or, N-Drip has developed what it says is a system that allows areas that use water flooding for irrigation to use the more precise drip irrigation instead.
Flood irrigation, perhaps the most ancient way of watering crops, is still one of the most commonly used forms of irrigation in the world today. Some 85 percent of agricultural fields globally use this system, in which water is delivered to the field by a pipe or a ditch, and the water simply flows over the ground through the crop. The system is wasteful of both water — it is believed that some 50% is lost to evaporation or infiltration of uncultivated areas — and fertilizer, nor does it produce optimal yields.
N-Drip’s principal target market is those 85% of irrigated agricultural areas in the world, including the majority of agricultural areas in the US, Australia and other countries, where existing drip-irrigation systems are too expensive to use.
“N-Drip is easily and inexpensively applied to those fields, and as a result water needed for the crops drops by about half, so farmers have more water,” Siegel explained. “In addition, crop yields are routinely increased by 15 to 40 percent, so the extra yield provides higher income for the farmer. And farmers need to use half the amount of fertilizer on an N-Drip field as that traditionally used with flooding. As fertilizer is the highest economic input growers incur, this is a significant saving.”
“N-Drip has already been demonstrated to work on several dozen crops, including the world’s largest crops [like] potatoes, corn, wheat, rice, cotton, alfalfa, and sorghum, among many others,” added Siegel. Based in Beit She’an, the Israeli company says it works with clients in 17 countries worldwide, with three main business hubs in Australia, India, and the southwestern US. Its American headquarters are in Arizona.
As part of its agreement with PepsiCo, N-Drip has already started working with farmers in India, South Africa, the US and Europe, Siegel said. The food giant sources over 25 crops like potatoes, corn, and grapes, across 60 countries. PepsiCo, with revenue of some $79 billion in 2021, owns major brands such as Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, and Israeli beverage company SodaStream, which it bought in 2018 for over $3 billion.
The N-Drip-PepsiCo agreement, estimated at about $20 million, will help PepsiCo “achieve its stated sustainability goals, especially saving water, while also upgrading the capacity of its supply chain,” said Siegel. In 2021, PepsiCo unveiled a “Positive Agriculture” strategy that aims to improve direct agricultural supply chain water use efficiency by 15% by 2025 in areas of high water risk, and sustainably source crops and ingredients.
The partnership with N-Drip was developed by PepsiCo Labs, PepsiCo’s technology venturing arm, “which works to identify and embed breakthrough technology start-ups into PepsiCo’s operations to help solve complex, real-world problems and meet business goals at a global scale,” according to the official announcement Wednesday.
“To date, we’ve implemented N-Drip’s technology with farmers in India, Vietnam, and the US, and saw improved crop yields, reduced fertilizer usage, and 50% less water consumed compared to flood irrigation,” said Rob Meyers, VP of Sustainable Agriculture at PepsiCo. “We’re thrilled to grow our partnership further by scaling N-Drip’s technology to make an even bigger impact across our agricultural footprint.”
N-Drip CEO Eran Pollak said, “As PepsiCo sources crops from farms of all types and sizes, N-Drip’s proprietary technology allows our partnership to make precise irrigation accessible to all types of farmers, from those with massive farms to those with one-acre plots.”