In Spain, 78% of water resources are used for agriculture. This poses environmental problems, such as overexploitation of water for inefficient irrigation and contamination with pesticides and fertilisers. Agriculture is considered one of the main sources of water pollution, with excessive use of fertilisers leading to the degradation of water bodies. This is a major issue, for which the EU has approved a series of legislative measures, including the Nitrates and the Water Framework directives. According to EUROSTAT, Spain has one of the highest rates of nitrate pollution in groundwater in the EU, with more than 20% of monitoring sites surpassing the 50 ppm (parts per million) concentration. Regarding irrigation, lack of optimal practices generates inefficiencies in water use. It is therefore necessary to develop new integrated practices for fertilisation and irrigation that optimise the dosing, intensity and application of water and fertilisers, to minimise the loss of nutrients to groundwater.
The goal of the LIFE AGROGESTOR project was to reduce the negative environmental impact of agricultural irrigation by means of an innovative web geographic information system (GIS) AGROgestor platform. The project would demonstrate the platform, its tools and utilities, with the aim of helping farmers to plan and manage crop production in an efficient and sustainable manner through increased water use efficiency for irrigation and improved water quality.
In particular, the project aimed to:
- Develop a decision support tool to assist with crop planning and management for diverse agricultural enterprises, including cooperatives, irrigation communities, agro-industries, service companies, environmental authorities and public bodies;
- Develop management strategies and tools to improve the environmental performance of agricultural practices, such as crop substitution and rotation, controlled deficit irrigation, irrigation network governance, balanced fertilisation and other strategies;
- Develop and validate governance strategies, for the application of progressive charges when using water and fertilisers, individual social responsibility, agreed production systems and application of internal regulations;
- Demonstrate the feasibility of the AGROgestor platform in three pilot case studies located in areas with a) nitrate pollution, b) water scarcity, and c) elevated loads of farming wastes;
- Carry out an environmental training and awareness plan among stakeholders from the agricultural sector; and
- Replicate the platform in different stages: in the short term in four Spanish regions, and in the mid and long term in other European countries.
The LIFE AGROGESTOR project team developed a digital ecosystem, formed of two linked platforms (AGROgestor developed during this project and AGROasesor developed during a previous LIFE project), for water management in crop systems.
The AGROgestor platform is a specialised technical assistance tool to support managers of farms through advisory services. The platform was validated in 3 pilot scenarios and in 9 additional replications at national level, involving 15 agricultural cooperatives and 150 farms. In these demonstrations, management strategies focused on water and fertilisation were defined and applied in the field. Subsequently, the environmental impacts of these strategies were monitored, through the use of well-defined indicators assessing productivity, efficiency and sustainability. The use of the AGROgestor platform was supported by governance and awareness-raising activities.
Overall, the assessment of the different strategies applied in the three project pilots (addressing different environmental problems) demonstrated that the use of the AGROgestor platform can reduce the impact of irrigated agriculture. Water consumption per tonne was reduced by 22% and CO2 eq emissions by 24% per tonne produced. In addition, it has been observed that in the pilot areas, both N and P surplus were lower at the end of the project, reducing the risk of nitrate lixiviation. Furthermore, the use of the AGROgestor platform has also resulted in economic benefits for farmers by improving farms' profitability, gross margins, and the productivity of nitrogen. The project also had a positive impact in the agriculture sector by improving the technology in the farming sector and providing advisory services. Approximately 11 000 ha have been managed with the AGROgestor platform, corresponding to 150 farms and 15 agricultural associations. At the end of the project, farmers showed a greater reliance on R&D-based solutions to address environmental issues.
The use and development of the platform will continue after the end of the project through the "AGROgestor alliance". This is an association developed during the project, comprising seven participating public bodies who agreed to continue to collaborate and provide advisory services to collective managers, while improving and updating the functionalities of the platform.
The project positively contributes to the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by providing innovative advisory services and boosting the digitalisation of the sector. To this end, the project team developed a model for environmental programme management that will be used as reference for the collaborative public management of eco-schemes under the new CAP. Furthermore, the project directly contributed to the FaST (Farm Sustainability Tool for Nutrients) initiative, by participating in the development of the FaST NAVIGATOR platform of the new CAP.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).