Neiker-Tecnalia (the Basque Institute of Agricultural Research and Development) has been working with Arson engineering company in the creation of an irrigation telecontrol system which will enable saving up to 20 % of water for each harvest, compared to traditional irrigation methods. With this technology, known as Aquarson, the programming of the irrigation shifts and the consumption of water are controlled in a centralised way, enabling a management based on hydraulic and energy criteria which increase the efficiency of use of the irrigation system.
The project is an initiative to improve management of water resources. With this aim, the knowledge of Arson Basque company on remote engineering and the knowledge of Neiker-Tecnalia on agronomy and crop water needs have been joined. To put this into practice, the cooperation of the Community of Irrigators of Zambrana (in the Basque province of Araba-Álava, Spain) was asked. They facilitated the installation of a pilot plant for automatic irrigation control in their land, comprising part of the plumbing in an area over 500 hectares. This area was divided into about 500 plots allocated to irrigation of many food crops such as potatoes and beet, the most representative products of the region.
The advanced technology of Aquarson enables the establishment of a network of remote units communicated by radiofrequency and which, connected to a management software and centralised control, sends instructions for irrigation to the hydrants. Also, it gathers information about the irrigation tasks carried out and the hydraulic operation of the installation. The instruction for irrigation is sent from a management and control application tool, expressly designed for managing irrigation systems and installed in a computer located in the Community of Irrigators offices.
The Aquarson remote system that was installed in Zambrana consists of 20 remote communication units distributed in 40 farmlands. Each device has autonomy to handle more than one plot and besides enforcing the watering it can extract detailed information about each point of culture.
The equipment has remote units connected through wireless technology at each hydrant communicating by radiofrequency to a computer located at the head office of the Community of Irrigators. The system helps to make the management of the irrigated lands (subject to strict weekly shifts) more flexible, as the quantity of water supplied to the land is controlled online. An order is emitted from the central control activating the irrigation points in each plot of land, being controlled through advanced software, with its settings established according to the agronomic criteria of the professionals. On making a decision about when and how much water should be supplied, the hydric needs of the terrain at that moment is taken into account, as well as the quota of supply assigned to the community, and the water tariffs.
Three types of simultaneous communication
Outstanding amongst the benefits provided by this pioneering technology is the possibility of combining various methods of communication. The system is capable of establishing its communications combining GPRS, radiofrequency and cable technology (amongst others) in order to adapt to the needs of each installation, according to the type of handling and management required, the size of the irrigated plot and its orography.
Moreover, Aquarson enables the installation of sensors at key points of the system, transmitting information to the Irrigation Control Centre, thus detecting possible cracks in the pipes and controlling weather factors that might influence irrigation (strong winds or heavy rainfall).
Among the most notable advantages are savings in the amount of water consumed per operation, reaching up to between 15 % and 20 % in comparison with other, more conventional systems.
In the case of the province of Araba-Álava, where the amount of water available is usually less than the hydric needs of the crops, the system enables increasing the efficiency in the use of water. In other words, it enables increasing production using the same volume of water. Also, in the case of a community of irrigators in which pumps consuming large quantities of electrical energy are required, the system enables increasing efficiency through reducing energy consumption.
Besides all these quantitative benefits, there is another more qualitative advantage that affects the farmers' quality of life. The intelligent irrigation system enables farmers to programme the irrigation required without having to travel in person to the irrigation water outlets. The technology also facilitates greater flexibility when assigning irrigation shifts. Until now this task was undertaken without clear parameters of optimisation and without the precise control of the surface irrigated. With this automated system, an enhanced monitoring of water use is achieved, the goal being to avoid a lack of water resulting in harmful hydric stress.
Finally, the programme favours the increase in profitability of the land, which optimises the distribution of water throughout the plots depending on economic criteria, such as the price of water and of the crops.
Together with the implementation of this advanced technology, researchers of Neiker-Tecnalia began a targeted advice to farmers, with the aim of offering practical advice when making the water supply to crops. For this reason, the technological centre has developed models for optimising the management of water supplies for crops. These models are based on meteorological parameters (such as wind speed, rainfall and solar radiation) and economic criteria (such us the price of water and its turnover by each community), as they all are factors that determine crop irrigation.
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