INDUSTRY THINKS
Andrés del Campo, president of the Spanish Federation of Irrigators' Communities (FENACORE)

02 August 2016

Andrés del Campo

"At Iwater we hope to find solutions and technologies for modernising the efficiency of our irrigation systems"

"Iwater is an event with a big technological and innovative content and focus, so we hope to see solutions for optimising agricultural production from a double standpoint: not only saving water but also energy."



1. What motivated an association such as FENACORE to support an event like Iwater and join its organising committee?

We share common interests and objectives. We are living in a situation of hydric stress, with less and less water available per capita, and demand is constantly growing so the search for solutions to alleviate this deficit is increasingly urgent. When you look at a sector such as agriculture, which needs water to produce basic foodstuffs and has mortgaged itself to the hilt in the last 50 years to modernise irrigation systems for precisely this reason, to produce more with less water – how could we possibly not support an event such as Iwater?

2. FENACORE represents organisations dedicated to managing water for irrigation purposes. What is the situation right now in Spain with regard to irrigation?

The fact is that the modernisation of irrigation systems I mentioned earlier has enabled us to reduce the use of irrigation water on average by 14% since 2000, a percentage which in many regions has reached over 25%. We have gone from using some 17,500 cubic hectometres of water per year to around 14,500. To explain it in more graphic terms, this means that the volume of water we are now saving could fill more than 100,000 Olympic swimming pools. However, there is always another side to the coin. The ‘reward', if you'll excuse the irony, that irrigators have obtained from modernising our systems has been a steady rise in electricity prices since 2008 – fixed costs have gone up by over one thousand percent, which translates to an average increase in the annual electricity bill of over 100%. This is causing production costs to escalate and, as a logical knock-on effect, it is decimating the tiny gross margins of farmers, making irrigation-based agriculture unfeasible in many cases.

3. These days, what are the main challenges facing irrigators' communities?

Our main challenge right now is reducing energy costs. We're not asking for grants or subsidies, but what we are asking for is to pay in accordance with our seasonal status, as many irrigable zones only use irrigation in spring and summer, depending on crop needs. For this reason we should only be paying for the power we actually use and not the maximum contracted power twelve months a year, even though the pumping stations are not operating. But what do we find? That the criterion followed by the different governments has been to try to cover the drop in the current deficit of the electricity system, thus substantially increasing the regulated fixed costs that depend on whichever political party is in charge which, in turn, are made up of a whole mass of other items (taxes, coal industry subsidies, moratorium on nuclear energy, premiums for producing renewable energies, debt interest and repayments, etc.). For this reason, we need a fair and equitable system in the distribution of regulated energy costs. What doesn't make sense is that with the excuse of the tariff deficit we are the users who are paying from our own pockets for the mistakes of an inherited energy policy, while the energy production companies – the traditional ones – are making massive profits despite the debt.

4. And finally, what are you expecting Iwater to offer the agricultural and irrigation sector?

On the one hand, being an international trade show, it should not only help to put the water sector on the global map but also highlight its importance, with an emphasis on the value chain. In addition, Spain is a mirror into which the international community can look to achieve better use of resources in this context, with less and less water and land per capita. Indeed, we are at the top of the table in terms of the percentage of localised irrigation, with almost 50% of our land irrigated by these systems, though in total more than 75% of our land is equipped with efficient irrigation systems.

On the other hand, it is an event with a big technological and innovative content and focus, so it will provide solutions for optimising production in accordance with a dual objective: not only saving water but also energy. I believe that for this to happen it is essential to promote biotechnology for developing crops with lower water needs and greater disease tolerance. It's also crucial to continue promoting the use of new technologies in the modernisation of our irrigation systems to achieve greater efficiency in water and energy use, as I said earlier. We must not forget that international organisations such as the FAO are warning us that to supply the growing global population, productivity will have to increase by more than 40% before 2030, and over 70% before 2050. We sincerely hope to find solutions in this respect.