The importance of investing in technologies for efficient water use in agriculture

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The importance of investing in technologies for efficient water use in agriculture

During Cherry Tech 2024, the most important technical event on cherry production in Chile, one of the most debated topics was the efficient use and management of water in cherry growing and agriculture in general.

During the forum "Water: Availability, management and its Efficient Use in cherry cultivation", five experts on the subject, moderated by the agronomist and cherry specialist advisor, Carlos Tapia, shared their opinions, concerns, and analysis of the current situation of this fundamental resource for agriculture.

Considering the last two years of abundant rainfall in Chile -after almost 15 years of drought-, Tapia opened the debate by saying that water is a topic that tends to be neglected, "especially in years when it rains a lot".

"Therefore, today we want to talk about the concept of water use in general, rather than irrigation specifically, because we believe that this will link different paths, including irrigation, nutrition, availability, and management, among others," said Tapia.

Related article: CherryTech 2024: Chile's largest technical cherry industry event

 Francisco Contardo, journalist and executive director of ComunicAgro, said that it is very positive to talk about water, even when the country is experiencing rainfall, since having the resource, there is less discussion about the need to measure, technify, and advance in water technologies.

"There are already voices saying that the drought is over, but experts disagree," said Contardo. "For me, the risk is that when we are happy with water, we enter into passivity in terms of how we manage our properties, how we invest and prioritize the water issue, and the pressure exerted by the guilds so that there are water works in accordance with what is required," he added.

Contardo called on all attendees to "not let go of the water issue".

"Although we see the white mountain range and it is raining, it is still a very important issue," he said.

Getting engaged in water discussions

Rodrigo Callejas, another panelist, who is a lecturer in agricultural sciences and a specialist in smart irrigation, said that producers need to be more proactive about getting involved in water issues.

"Farmers have to stop sending the irrigation manager or the administrator to meetings. Owners have to get involved, because if they don't, we're not going to get anywhere," Callejas said.

The work, he added, is in securing water and the only way to do that is from leadership or with robust hydrogeological studies to help make the right decisions.

He assured that from the teaching side, at the University of Chile—where he works—they have changed the study plans to strengthen water, irrigation, soil, and technology topics, with compulsory subjects for all students.

"We are responding to a human resource that meets the additional demands we have, which is quite large," said Callejas.

Water consumption in cherry trees

Tapia shared a personal fact, that on average one hectare of cherry trees uses 8,000 cubic meters of water per year, saying that he thinks this consumption is a bit high, so he asked the panelists how to rethink the situation. This discussion can be addressed through technology and agricultural processes.

Technology, said Tomas Vicente, regional manager of Wiseconn, serves to have hard data to make better decisions in a timely manner: "With access to information today we can question many of the old repetitive practices, and make better decisions.

Efficient water use in agriculture is vital, not only for farmers' wallets but also for society and the environment in general, since it is estimated that the activity consumes around 70% of water use.


Today, soil moisture sensors have become a vital tool for determining the timing and frequency of irrigation, one of the most sensitive points for farmers.

Vicente stressed the importance of knowing the technology, monitoring that irrigation systems are working correctly, and releasing the right amount of water for the crop.

Lucas Ferrada, agronomist and consultant specializing in plant nutrition and soil management, highlighted the advance in technology over the last decade.

"If we don't measure the amount of water we use, we're never going to be able to improve," Ferrada said. "My perception, in the fields I work in from Copiapó to Chillan, is that we are over-irrigating." These measurements require a joint effort, as they represent a great effort according to Ferrada.

Investing in technology is expensive, but it is fundamental to have correct measurements in terms of efficient water use. "Without soil sensors, it is impossible to control the variability that exists in terms of water because that is what allows us to see the information," Callejas said.

Putting the water issue on the table

Tapia asked journalist Francisco Contardo if technical aspects of water use are mentioned in the discussions on the water crisis and if specialists are asked, to which he replied: "Very little".

"There is a shared responsibility in this issue, there are institutions that seek to put together a system of solutions for the problem in a general way", said the journalist.

He assured that the problem is that the space has been given to "generalist specialists", and not so much to experts with more technical knowledge to take part in these discussions.

He added that adding technical specialists and not prioritizing interest groups is of utmost importance to discuss this fundamental issue at a national level.

Water discussion panel at Cherry Tech 2024

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