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Avocados: innovative irrigation solution increases yields and export quality

by | Nov 21, 2018 | Case Study |

No other fruit has seen such exponential growth in popularity as the once-humble avocado. A firm favorite of the “superfood” category, they’re high in fiber, vitamins, and healthy fats. This wasn’t always so; back in 1915 the California Avocado Association bemoaned: “Why was not the extraordinary value of this fruit earlier recognized, and why were not orchards planted years ago to supply the markets with it?”. Well, this is finally what happened in the early 21st century; global production has doubled since 2000, and demand shows no sign of a slowdown, with the market in the US alone set to be worth $23 billion by 2027. According to the stats, Mexico still leads the way with 45% of global avocado production, with the Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia and Indonesia completing the top 5. With demand at an all-time high, growers are cashing in, with avocado farms springing up in brand new locations such as south-west China.

However, avocado trees are perennial crops and thus require year-round water, potentially why it took so long to become a successful cultivated crop worldwide – not until the advent of drip irrigation made effective year-round irrigation genuinely possible.

Official government statistics in Chile show that it takes an average of 389 liters of water per kilo of avocado (although it should be stated that this is not as much as some statistics which made the news in 2018; as avocados have become more popular they have also been politicized). They’re now often grown in arid and semi-arid areas, meaning that water scarcity and high salinity can be issues faced by growers. What if a more efficient use of existing irrigation water were possible, meaning that growers in these areas could make better use of their limited resources?

Various studies around the world have proven that Aqua-4D’s proprietary technology facilitates growth in areas of high salinity, while also resulting in significant water savings in a variety of crops – of up to 30%. In water-intensive crops such as melons, this has proven to be a game-changer for increasing yields while saving precious water, as was the case for Agricola Famosa in Brazil. It’s all made possible by the way the Aqua-4D system interacts with the irrigation water. Attached easily to the final stage of irrigation (see diagram here), a finely-calibrated electromagnetic signal subtly changes the structure of the water. The result? Better dissolution of both minerals and fertilizers within, meaning the plant can more effectively absorb what it needs while harmful ions are leached away below the root zone. Water savings then result from improved penetration and retention in the soil – whatever the type of soil. Water infiltrates more easily into the micro-pores, reinforcing root structure, and resulting in less loss of water by percolation.

The avocado tree is a peculiar one in that it likes well-drained soil but does not tolerate “wet feet” (gathering of too much water around the roots). Moreover, they’re particularly sensitive to salts yet are often grown in arid areas especially prone to salinization issues.

Having seen the Aqua-4D’s effective solution for these problems in other crops, in 2017 a large avocado producer in Chincha, Peru decided to install a system and monitor the effects on their fruits over the following year. The results were beyond anything they could have imagined. The company was successfully growing Hass avocados over 300ha, yet was losing a significant amount of yields each harvest due to salinity issues. They decided to install an Aqua-4D system and monitor comparative data on two adjacent plots with identical conditions – one irrigated with Aqua-4D-treated water, and the other with normal water.

The salinity results showed, tellingly, less concentration of salts closer to the surface areas, and more concentration of salts in the deeper regions – exactly what would be expected from the leaching effect of the Aqua-4D system. The salt crystals and minerals are better dissolved, the plant absorbs what it needs, while harmful ions are percolated below the active rhizosphere:

This leads not only to healthier plants – and healthier fruits – through the plant’s more efficient absorption and the fact that no extra leaching is required, resulting in water savings.

Monthly measurements of soil electroconductivity (EC) were taken at different levels. As the following graphs show, nearer the surface at a depth of 20cm the EC steadily decreased over time. Lower down, there was a steady increase of EC at 60cm depth on the plot treated by Aqua-4D.

As expected, the salts were no longer accumulating near the root zone, but gathered instead at lower depths – out of harm’s way, thanks to the Aqua-4D system’s improved natural leaching effect. Leaching of salts, less soil conductivity, and optimized level of nutrients resulted in a noteworthy increase in fruit quality and size. A field sampling of equal number of fruits for each plot showed the following data:

With an increase in weight and quality, subsequent financial calculations found that the avocado trees irrigated with water treated by the Aqua-4D system yielded avocados of higher export quality, which would increase by 5% the total profits of the harvest – detailed data available here. Aqua-4D’s Enrique Rebaza oversaw the study and remarked: “The Aqua-4D system was able to improve the size and quality of the fruit with better returns and increased export quality as noted later one the total fruit from the plots was processed by the grower.” Having proven its efficacy in solving these salinity issues, saving water, and increasing export quality for avocado growers, in 2019 Aqua-4D looks set to help more many growers in South, Central, and North America maximize their growing potential.

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