How Aqua-4D boosts Water Use Efficiency with precision irrigation
“Projected climate change impacts are expected to reduce water supplies and increase water demand. The economic health and sustainability of irrigated agriculture will depend on the ability of producers to adapt to growing constraints on water, particularly through improved water-use efficiency.” – United States Department of Agriculture
“Although soil moisture constitutes only about 0.005 % of global water resources, it is an important part of the water cycle and a key variable controlling numerous processes and feedback loops within the climate system.” – European Environment Agency
With a changing climate and a growing population creating a ‘perfect storm’ for world food supplies, there is currently intense focus on how to feed more people with less resources. Water scarcity one of the biggest concerns, and more efficient water use is at the forefront of one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals – Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, which states: “Water scarcity is projected to increase with the rise of global temperatures as a result of climate change. More international cooperation is needed to encourage water efficiency and support treatment technologies in developing countries.”
The key to this is improving not only access to water, but doing much more with existing water through better Water Use Efficiency. Water supply is just one half of the problem – just as imperative is ensuring this moisture stays in the soil long enough for plants to take advantage of it.
Consequently, there is plenty of research underway in how to get the most out of irrigated farming and maintain soil moisture where it’s most needed. This includes everything from using peat moss, perlite (a volcanic glass), membranes and more, to increase absorption properties. And with increasing desertification, there’s also plenty of research into how to grow food in desert environments. Just this year, a team in Chongqing are growing food in Chinese deserts by adding a paste made from a substance in plant cell walls, and a Norwegian innovation gives sand particles a clay coating which allows it to bind with water.
However, much of this innovation is focused on the soil itself. The genius of Aqua-4D’s technology – and its inherent adaptability, whether greenhouse or open field – is that the focus is wholly on the irrigation water itself, meaning it is effective when applied to all conceivable soil types. Better still, the best results have been obtained when faced with the very lowest-quality soils and irrigation water. Subtly transforming the water can have huge knock-on effects on the soil, plants and hence on overall water use efficiency.
WUE: Water Use Efficiency
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) defines Water Use Efficiency (WUE) as “the ratio between effective water use and actual withdrawal”. It is absolutely imperative to effective agricultural output; as the agronomist Gerald Stanhill stated in a renowned 1986 paper: “It is found that where water is the major factor limiting crop growth, any increase in WUE achieved by eliminating or reducing nonproductive water use will lead to an increase in transpiration and yield.” In other words, improving WUE not only saves water but also leads to better yields down the line. This correlation has been substantiated by several field studies involving growers working with the Aqua-4D® system. Let’s take a closer look at some of these results.
Agadir, Morocco, 2012: Collaboration with the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy, looking at the impact of Aqua-4D on tomato crops in a greenhouse environment. The results showed yields-per-plant increased by over a third along with a WUE of 41%:
Palestinian Territory, 2012-13: Collaboration between USAID and Al-Quds University, studying the effect of using treated brackish water on bell pepper crops (published in the Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology in 2014). The researchers concluded that “it is possible to improve the quantity and quality of yield through using on-site electromagnetic water technology.”, while at the same time finding a “a clear increase in water productivity” – 8.7 kg/m3 for control crop and 10 kg/m3 for treated crop.
Spain, 2015-16: Research into the influence of Aqua-4D treatment on plant growth, water use and water use efficiency in greenhouse and outside irrigated crops. The crops were arranged in randomized blocks, with half given untreated water and the others Aqua-4D treated water. Once a week, plant height, number of leaves, and number of tomatoes was measured. Water use efficiency was calculated by the ratio of total biomass/water consumed and total yield/water consumed. Higher WUE was measured in the treated crops, as well as higher fruit quality: “Tomatoes from Aqua-4D treated plants presented significant higher acidity and firmness, both indicators of good quality.”
Ecuador, 2018: Recent study from February to August during the dry season at a crop of Gypsophilia carnation flowers in Alabuela, growing in sandy soils. Installation of Aqua-4D system on one plot showed 27% more water available in the soil, with reduction of salts and chlorine.
California, 2017-18: With an almond producer in Central Valley. Results showed significantly increased yields compared with the control, while final tensiometer results in August 2018 showed 31.5% more moisture in the soil.
Pic: Turlock Fruit Co., California and their Aqua-4D installation
How it works: the science
It is important to stress here that in many of these cases and more, better WUE emerged in the results even though the initial aim of the study was to look at a range of other issues which the Aqua-4D system can solve, including clogging/limescale, soil salinity, or irrigation with brackish water. Many growers have found that the installation of a system not only rids them of their problem, but also leads to water savings and increased yields. This helps explain the fast ROI, with the system ending up paying for itself many times over.
How is this all possible? A legitimate question, which I will endeavor to address.
The proprietary Swiss technology, first patented in the early 2000s, treats the water with a totally non-invasive and low-level EM signal. This has a subtle effect on the structure of the water itself and its surface tension. In much the same way that a wine glass can shatter at the right musical note, when presented with just the right calibrated frequency the molecules of water (and the minerals within) can rearrange.
How does this affect the soil and the plants? At the molecular level, as the water molecule clusters are broken down into smaller components, it can then infiltrate more easily into the minute pores of the soil (capillary effect). This results in better water retention (the plant can absorb it as and when it needs it, in the right quantities), meaning less irrigation water is required, enabling the significant water savings and WUE seen in the above cases.
As Aqua-4D co-founder Walter Thut said in a recent interview, this technology really is a game changer, and the academically-validated results for Water Use Efficiency and the increasing use of the system in water-scarce areas are proof of this. And with the FAO estimating that 40% of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity, the stakes have never been higher and the call never greater for an innovation which shifts irrigation across the world towards more efficient water use.