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Wits co-captain cultivating a different type of green

FNB Wits co-captain Constant Beckerling has etched his name into FNB Varsity Cup folklore with his passionate post-match interviews.

The 25-year-old loose forward is currently enjoying his final season of Rugby That Rocks, having racked up 94 caps for the Witsies (16 Shield, 35 Cup, and another 43).

Beckerling is also making waves in his chosen field of chemical engineering. He co-founded AgriSmart Engineering and is busy developing a better strain of cannabis for his Masters' dissertation. asked him ...

What exactly is AgriSmart Engineering and why did you and co-founder Anlo van Wyk start this venture?

AgriSmart Engineering is an agri-tech company. We develop novel cultivation technologies. At the moment, we are focused on cannabis cultivation tech. Our technologies are disruptive in nature and will force people to change the way they think about cultivating cannabis.

We started the company to protect the sovereignty of the African cannabis economy. Africa is bound to be ravaged by corporate greed and the local populace will be exploited. All created value will be exported.

We have seen a myriad of imported cultivation IP which is unintuitive, unsuitable to local growing environments and does not make provision for responsible withdrawal of our natural resources.

Currently, the carbon footprint of the industry is staggering and it is not sustainable. It is important to develop the industry in a sustainable manner.

At the end of the day, you can’t eat or breathe money. The planet needs to come first – someone needs to draw a line in the sand. We are those people.

AgriSmart Engineering received special recognition from the Gauteng Development Agency's Innovation Hub for using bioscience algorithms and artificial intelligence [AI] to cultivate high-yielding cannabis crops. In laymen's terms, what does that entail?

We have been developing the blueprint for a modular cannabis cultivation facility for some time now. This has been an iterative process. In an African context, our main competitive advantage is our superior solar radiation, while our major weakness is severe water stress.

Our strategy is to play to our strengths while mitigating our weaknesses. This is why our design is centered around a closed-loop, recirculating hydroponic system.

On top of this, we build our own LED grow lights. These are ‘smart lights’, as they are able to monitor environmental inputs and adjust their output accordingly. They would brighten or dim automatically as the environment dictates, resulting in the most efficient grow possible.

The ‘base fixtures’ are already significantly better than the industry standard high-intensity discharge [HID] fixtures, while implementing the AI algorithms will take them to the next level. These are currently in the research and development phase.

Considering there is a multitude of plants that contain medicinal qualities, why did AgriSmart Engineering specifically choose cannabis?

Firstly, we are passionate about cannabis cultivation and it makes us happy. Secondly, cannabis could be Africa’s new cash crop. It has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. Our goal is to help facilitate this ideal.

Where do you wish AgriSmart Engineering to evolve?

We see ourselves becoming a major player in the agri-tech and tech sectors. We would love to have the same sort of impact as a Tesla or an Apple.

Has AgriSmart Engineering experienced any setbacks with the cannabis exercise?

Most definitely. The one constant when it comes to cannabis cultivation is that setbacks are a part of it. It’s like a rugby game, or like life: everything doesn’t always go your way.

The important thing is to stay true to your dream and believe in yourself. Following that, just some good, old-fashioned hard work.

You carry an almost talisman appeal as co-captain for FNB Wits. Could you divulge to our Fans That Rock your FNB Varsity Cup experience, as this chapter of your career will be coming to an end soon?

I'm forever grateful to have experienced many unique and wonderful parts of our rich, rugby heritage.

I think having played both Varsity Shield and Varsity Cup, I have a more complete perspective. It is equally special to play Fort Hare in Alice as it is to play Maties at the Danie Craven Stadium.

Everyone has their part to play in making South African rugby a stronger product. Each of us weaves our own unique thread into the beautiful tapestry that is South African rugby. I have seen rugby fans embrace their team in every corner of the country and it has been a remarkable journey.

Rugby, in South Africa, is synonymous with hope and unity. I count myself lucky to have made many friends along the way.

FNB Wits have improved in leaps and bounds since joining the FNB Varsity Cup. Where do you see your beloved team heading to over the next few seasons?

I want to see them believe in themselves as much as I do. It is a special thing to be part of a small group of people who take on the world. I want them to keep putting on their jerseys with pride and to never give up. I want them to remember where it is they come from and to stay true to themselves.

Somewhere down the line, if they keep fighting as the Witsies do, they could achieve something truly remarkable. That being said, don’t count us out [of this year's tournament] just yet.

What's next for Constant Beckerling rugby-wise?

Maybe a few beers and some touch rugby with friends. Other than that, if Rassie Erasmus or Jacques Nienaber phones me tomorrow, I’ll put in a shift.


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