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Irrigation water treatment reduces water use in Chile avocado production

The avocado industry has at times been on the receiving end of criticism due to the high amounts of water needed to produce avocados. As the climate in which this fruit thrives comes with drought conditions, the high volumes of water required for avocado production can pose issues. Chile, specifically, has seen challenges in recent years as a persistent drought has affected avocado sizes and overall volumes. That is why Swiss water treatment innovators AQUA4D are currently working on a water efficiency project in Chile and Peru to help make the avocado industry more sustainable and profitable.

Left: Control. Right: Treated with AQUA4D. 

Sustainable, chemical-free treatment
AQUA4D is a technology that works to sustainably treat irrigation water, with the goal of bringing savings, higher yields, irrigation optimization and better water management to users. “The technology works by physically transforming the water, rather than chemically transforming it. The water molecules and their behavior are altered, transforming low-quality water into high-quality water,” says Hugo Gaignebet, Head of Technical Support at AQUA4D headquarters, Switzerland.
The technology is easily applied to any existing irrigation setup. “It will be attached to the final stage of the irrigation system before the water is applied to the crop. It will ensure that there is less clogging in the system, less salinity in the soil and more water savings throughout the operation. Practically, we are the only solution that restores saline soils while using less water in the process, allowing for irrigation with saline water,” Gaignebet adds.
Making Chile’s avocado production more sustainable 
As Chile has been experiencing many water issues in the past 12 years, AQUA4D wanted to trial their system with avocado growers in the country to see if they could help improve the situation.
“They are seeing less and less water each year, and nobody can impact the actual climate, so there will have to be some structural changes to help improve the situation,” Javier Meyer, AQUA4D’s Chief Sustainability Officer shares. “That is why we started collaborating with the Palta Hass Committee, Chile’s national avocado committee, in efforts to improve the sustainability of the industry,” he adds.
Improving the industry’s sustainability through AQUA4D is a multifaceted operation. “First, the soil has to be restored,” Meyer explains. “Due to drought and other reasons, the soils on the farms have become salinized, which has a negative effect on production. The standard recommendation for improving salinized soil is to wash the soil, but this uses a lot of unnecessary and unavailable water. AQUA4D is the only technology that can help to restore the soil while using less, rather than more, water,” he adds.
Then, when the soil is restored, the grower will need less water to grow the avocados. “After the soil has been restored to its optimal condition, it will have much better water penetration and retention in its micropores. This means a lot less water - about 20-30% less on average - is needed for the avocado trees to be properly irrigated,” Meyer shares.
Trials are in progress 
There have been some very positive preliminary results from the current trials and the overall results are expected to be released this summer. Meyer says: “We are working with specific growers in Chile and a third-party university, in combination of 2Grow sap flow sensors from Belgium and Holland among other climate-smart technologies, is conducting trials to test the effectiveness of the project. The Avocado Committee is very interested in seeing what water savings can be achieved with the water-smart technology, and how the overall volumes, sizing and quality of the avocados might also increase. The committee has been searching for water-saving techniques and by working together with AQUA4D, they have taken a big step toward utilizing innovative technology to change the paradigm of the farm: less water, no chemicals, and better results,” Meyer concludes.

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