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CASE STUDY: How Delta Agrar reduced water consumption by 17% and workforce activities by 4x in their orchard in just 2 seasons

Every time a business starts thinking about implementing a new piece of technology, the first thing that gets mentioned in the board meeting is its financial justification. Technological innovation in agriculture is a necessity in the 21st century, especially in the face of global challenges.

However, sometimes the innovations bring more aesthetic merits than the ones applicable (and valuable) in real life.

When we contacted Delta Agrar in 2019, a company with a huge reputation in agriculture, we knew that if they decided to cooperate with us, we would have to justify every invested penny convincingly.

We had to prove that our tech solution truly influences yield growth. Huge promises like 

  • full irrigation automation, 
  • savings in water consumption, 
  • and reduction of the workforce needed 

had to be backed by real-life data

Together with Delta Agrar, we made a case study in which you’ll find the exact data that prove all the benefits of automated agricultural systems, applied in an environment where one mistake incurs serious financial losses, measured in millions.

Automation of irrigation in the Čelarevo orchard as a more precise method

The company Delta Agrar owns around 700 ha of orchards – in Čelarevo and Zaječar. The orchards are supplied with every possible technology of the 21st century, which optimizes almost every process to the maximum. 

They follow the GLOBAL GAP process in apple production, which ensures that the products have the quality needed for export.

After analyzing their current system, the experts found out that there’s one more sector where they can make further improvements and optimizations – and that’s irrigation. 

Using data from the natural water cycle (evapotranspiration and water balance) to adjust irrigation proved to be imprecise. By visual checks, the experts concluded that plants were either too dry or flooded. 

Aside from that, the company also engaged too much workforce for visiting orchards – it took more than 200 visits per year for irrigation only.

That’s why they had decided to test the Smart Watering system through a pilot project. The goals of the case study were:

  • Check whether it’s possible to fully automate irrigation
  • Test the hypothesis that smart, sensor-based irrigation increases yield
  • Analyze the reaction of plants, savings in water consumption, reduction of the workforce needed

The automated irrigation for testing purposes in Čelarevo began from 12,3 ha

The pilot project encompassed 4 irrigation zones. The test field with the Smart Watering system covered 12,3 ha, while the control field (at the same location) covered 12,8 ha.

Satellite image. The marked fields have the Smart Watering system.

The process went on in the following way:

The test field has 4 irrigation zones.

  • We installed the Smart Start controller that drives 4 solenoid valves with a diameter of 3” and a nominal flow of 27 m3/h.
  • The mainline has a flow sensor installed. This sensor informs us of the consumption of water and the quantity that reached the plants.
  • Every zone has a measuring station with a probe that collects data on soil moisture at 6 depth levels (10 cm, 20 cm, 30 cm, 40 cm, 50 cm, 60 cm).
  • We irrigated two apple varieties: Granny Smith and Red Delicious

We conducted tests and measurements in 2019 and 2020, during the irrigation season. The type of soil was chernozem and according to the texture class (Tommerup), it is clayey loam.

The results of automated orchard irrigation exceeded our expectations already in the first year

If you look at the water consumption data in the tables below, you can see that the total water consumption in 2019 in the fields with the Smart Watering system is 22.452 m3. In the fields without the Smart Watering, the total water consumption is 28.380 m3.

What’s the conclusion?
Delta Agrar reduced the water consumption by 17% in the fields with the automated sensor-based irrigation system.

The company also reduced the need for a workforce. Employees at the Delta Agrar visited the orchards 229 times in 2019 to check irrigation systems. 

The orchards with the Smart Watering system required only 50 visits since you could check almost all the data via smartphone. 

The study has shown that automated irrigation saves not only water but time as well, up to 4x.

Delta Agrar used these savings to reassign the workforce to more productive and vital tasks for business development.

Automated irrigation in 2020 exceeded the results from 2019

Although we expected the results to be even better, we were still surprised.

In 2020, water consumption in the fields with the Smart Watering system was 19.569 m3, while in the fields without the system 24.596 m3.

So, in 2020 we saved 17,44% water.

Employees at Delta Agrar visited the fields without the system 177 times, and 44 times the fields with the system. That’s 4x fewer visits.

Take a look at the comparison data below.

Reduction in total water consumption despite the increase in certain areas

As you can see in the table above, some months showed no reduction, but rather an increase in water consumption. That means that the Smart Watering automated irrigation system does not primarily save water, but optimizes the consumption, providing the plant with just the right quantity.

Despite these increases and optimization, the total annual savings were around 17%, or 5.000.000 l of water on the 12,3 ha field, which is 406.500 l/ha.

Conclusion

When we look at all the data from the tables above and compare it with our experience from the field, we can conclude the following:

  • Some parts of the orchard that were irrigated with sensor-based systems and the Smart Watering app received much less water, but the yield, quality, and results at the end of the year didn’t change at all
  • Some fields received more water, and yet, the total annual savings were 17%.
  • The plants irrigated with the Smart Watering system showed less lushness, the calmness of seedlings, and unchanged fruit size and quality.
  • Saving water also led to energy savings since pumps didn’t have to work all the time.
  • Savings have also been observed in the workforce; 4x fewer visits to the fields with the Smart Watering system.

Smart Watering has successfully proven its value in the most modern orchard in this part of Europe.

While we slowly prepare new projects, case studies, and tests, we invite you to check out our official website and additional resources.

Feel free to contact us any time, we even provide free 6-month testing of our devices for new customers!

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