A knowledge-based system for online precise irrigation scheduling, to minimize use of water and fertilizers, increasing competitiveness of agro food sector SMEs.
Scarcity and quality decrease of water, pose challenges in regions where irrigation of farmland accounts for more than 70% of water use with an agro food sector being a pillar of regional economy. Due to climate change and intensified markets competition the conditions are expected to deteriorate. Water conservation potential accrue from not irrigating non-cropped areas, matching irrigation schedules (doses and frequency) to the real crop water requirements and fully optimizing the economic value of water applied through precise irrigation.
Recent advances in precision irrigation led to development of a knowledge based system for online precise irrigation exploiting the tolerance of crops to water deficit and about the ability of soils to supply water. Thus, through application of regulated deficit irrigation, water and fertilizers savings of 30% and 20% respectively have been achieved. Moreover, tacit and explicit knowledge existing in farmers and research institutes converge, with the promising results attracting more farmers and SMEs in "clever" decision making systems.
Agro food sector SMEs are the main beneficiaries reducing their inputs (water, fertilizers, pesticides) in a sustainable way. Cost minimization and protection of environment not only increases SMEs competitiveness but through environmentally friendly, high added value products, they target market segments that can pay more for their products helping them establish a stronger brand name.
The cost of the OpIRIS system use is 5.000 euros for the equipment and 600 euros per year for the software and IT support. No special technology is needed, software works entirely via cloud and there is no need for institutional commitment for implementation, making application of method simple.
Evidence of success
The good practice led to significant results for the enterprises that used it. Water use was decreased by 30% and fertilizers use was decreased by 20%. Clusters of SMEs and collaboration of farmers through economies of scale gained even more through coordinated interventions. Regions (i.e. Region of Thessaly, Greece) where water use efficiency is a priority identified a simple, easy to use tool at great scale to support them achieve regional goals, preserve environment and support growth.
The real challenge is for end users to identify the potential savings through OpIRIS system and especially the link of savings to increased competitiveness, target of new market segments, creation of added value for products, opportunity for differentiating.
Potential for learning or transfer
Use of the good practice showed significant results for the farmers / enterprises in a 2 years horizon. Water and fertilizers use decrease by 30% and 20% respectively accompanied by increase in farms / SMEs competitiveness make the good practice attractive Europe wide. Implementation cost is low, no special demands needed in term of both technology to be used and support needed by regions or other structures, and therefore use and transfer is kept simple. Visibility is high, clustering of users is encouraged and all categories of farmers and SMEs can benefit, so no one is excluded. Concerning regions where water use optimization is a priority - due to climate change more regions fall in this category - OpIRIS is a tool helping them achieving their goals, in a simple, low cost, cooperative way. At the same time regional policies addressing social cohesion, economic growth, job creation and sustainable environment are served through environmentally responsible increased competitiveness.
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