Irrigation system scoops green award

Israeli-developed technology tested on Staffordshire strawberry farm takes sustainability prize.

A "revolutionary" irrigation and fertigation system in use at a Staffordshire strawberry grower has taken an award for its sustainable use of water and fertiliser.

The AutoAgronom system, developed in Israel by the company of the same name, uses sensors in the root zone to detect plants' needs before applying water and fertiliser automatically - a method it calls capillarity control of irrigation and feeding.

Tomer Kniznik, the firm's UK representative, said: "It's a new concept which we are introducing to the market here, and we started working with several UK growers last year, including Tom Busby at Dearnsdale Farm."

The manufacturer has claimed the system can make savings of up to 30% on water use and 70% on fertiliser.

The award, presented by the Sustainable Water Industry Group (SWIG) at its inaugural event in London's City Hall earlier this month, was an acknowledgement of the good results in water use, fertiliser use and yield experienced at the Haughton soft fruit producer, he said. "That means your return on investment is very fast."

Dearnsdale owner Busby said: "We've had good results on a 60-day crop that gave us a yield which was 20 per cent higher than normal. There is a water saving too, but I'm reserved about saying it's as high as the 30 per cent (that was) claimed for the system."

Kniznik added that while new to the UK, the approach is already helping to grow more than 140 different cultivars in many countries, from olives in Australia to asparagus in Spain, with trials currently under way in the UK on apple and blueberry production.

Creative projects

The Sustainable Water Industry Group awards are designed, in the words of organisers, to "increase awareness of what can be achieved with a little imagination and creativity, and to inspire future projects and transformational change." Projects are assessed on both "hard" (measurable) and "soft" criteria.

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