The ingenious Spanish invention to irrigate the field using up to 70% less water
The Spanish countryside dries up. The lack of water is an endemic evil in much of Spain, which worsens in years as dry as this 2022. In the face of drought, it is time to sharpen ingenuity and resort to technological solutions. Some are very elaborate and complex, such as the IBM algorithm that allows you to control the garden from your mobile o technology made in Spain of smart sensors to optimize production. Others are apparently simpler and more analog, but tremendously effective. This is the case of DeepDrop, a system of underground drip irrigation of a Malaga company that reduces water consumption by between 40 and 70 percent in all types of plantations.
Its main responsible is none other than Antonio Rico, an 82-year-old veteran businessman and inventor from Torrox (Málaga) who has patented this ingenious and revolutionary device. Although he began to shape it 40 years ago with the idea of bringing water directly to the roots, with the rise of subtropical tree plantations such as mango or avocado in the Axarquia region of Malaga, he saw the opportunity to rescue his invention.
"I am very proud of my father," explains his son Ernesto, in charge of managing and marketing the product, to EL ESPAÑOL - Omicrono. “There are many years of struggle, of signing up to 25 patents in sectors such as construction or healthcare. Some have had a run and some haven't, but he's never given up and I'm very happy to see how well DeepDrop is working, because It is a recognition of your work and effort.".
How does it work
One of the most amazing things about DeepDrop is its overwhelming simplicity. According to its inventor, “pure common sense”. And precisely in its simplicity lies its main virtue: it is a 15-centimeter tube inserted into the ground, with a rubber washer so that it does not sink. The tube is incorporated a capsule with a transparent surface, which connects to the general irrigation and allows the water to reach the roots of the plants directly. At the same time, the farmer can see at all times how the water circulates. If any problem arises, it is solved on the surface, not underground, something much more expensive and complex.
“Basically it is a dropper”, explains Ernesto, “but thanks to its shape it allows surface irrigation to be converted into underground irrigation. Yes indeed, retains the advantages of surface irrigation, such as being able to easily check that everything works correctly. The problems of subterranean irrigation have to do with costs, since it involves brutal maintenance both economically and in terms of time. You never know where it may be stuck or broken and, furthermore, there are farms where it cannot be installed”.
In the Axarquia, the area where the company is located, there is a very serious problem of water deficit: there is much more demand than the available resources, with the Viñuela reservoir at 14% of its capacity. The situation in the rest of Spain is not much better, since we are in one of the three driest hydrological years since 1961, with only 25% of the insured harvest.
At this juncture, the efficiency achieved by DeepDrop could be the salvation for hundreds of farmers. "The saving of water ranges between 40 and 70 percent, depending not only on the crop, but also on the soils in which we are working. Some tests that we have done with avocado crops reach that 70 percent, a very considerable figure. We have also tested its effectiveness on citrus, in olive groves we are beginning to carry out tests that are giving very good results... It can be used with any type of crop," says Ernesto.
The tests that began five years ago on the Rico family's own farm have also borne fruit, never better said: their small plantation currently produces 3.000 kilos of avocados a year. "That's not normal," insists the person in charge of marketing DeepDrop. "We work in collaboration with scientists from Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture La Mayora, belonging to the CSIC. The first time they came to see how the plantation was, they didn't believe that the trees had so little time”.
Saving water, which is achieved by avoiding the problems of evaporation and land washing, is not the only benefit of this underground drip irrigation system. This type of irrigation benefits the growth of the plant, the absorption of fertilizers, makes the root not have to force the intake of water and prevents the growth of weeds. All that implies better plant health and faster growth. In addition, DeepDrop allows short and abundant irrigations, which maintain constant moisture in the subsoil, benefiting the growth of the tree. It is not even necessary to water every day, as is the case with other sprinkler or surface irrigation.
Another of the great advantages of DeepDrop is the easy installation of these mushroom-shaped capsules. No professional required for installation and the farmer himself can install it easily using the material he already has, such as pipes or irrigation control systems.
"Does not involve a high cost such as the one that involves sensors or artificial intelligence, and it is also compatible with these technologies, so if they are already installed there is no problem”, says Ernesto Rico. "It is an investment, because by the time it is installed, with the savings in water, fertilizer and labor for the installation, it is already paying off."
The family business, under the name of Creacciona, is in full growth, and in Spain it has already installed the DeepDrop, in addition to Malaga, in various areas of Valencia and Barcelona, up to 150.000 devices between the different plantations. The revolutionary system is also arousing the interest of countries such as Chile, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or France, but Ernesto Rico and his family seek to go further.
"More than growing at a business level, what we are looking for is a social benefit“says the businessman. “Water is a good for everyone and here in Malaga, for example, there are already cuts in the supply for consumption. I want us to join the large number of small businesses and people who individually are innovating to bring out new things that help us all. Then, of course, there is the economic benefit if the project succeeds, and that creates prosperity, autonomy and employment ”, he concludes.
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