La Rioja is an eminently rural region, covering 5,000 km2, with a strong landscape and cultural contrast between the Sierra and the Ebro valley, which gradually differentiate the large areas of La Rioja's agriculture. The agricultural activity includes not only arable land, which accounts for 30 percent of the territory, but also forests, meadows and pastures, which cover almost two thirds of the region.
The agricultural landscape is mainly centred on the Ebro corridor, where, since the second half of the 20th century, a series of changes have taken place that have harmonised the landscape, transforming the traditional agricultural system into a modern, competitive, diversified and market-based system, adapted to the new times and needs.
Technical advances have played a part in this, as has the influence of water on agriculture, which comes from the seven rivers that rise in the Sistema Ibérico and flow into the Ebro.
The estimated regional irrigated area is around 50,700 hectares, which represents 10 percent of the regional area, and approximately 18 percent of the Useful Agricultural Area (285,920 hectares of arable land plus meadows and pastures).
An approximation by crops leads us to say that around 50 percent of the irrigated area is woody crops (around 23,600 hectares, of which vines account for approximately 15,110 ha); 26 percent corresponds to grain cereals (approximately 13,414 ha), and 10 percent are fruit trees (around 5,300 ha), mainly pear trees. The remainder is mainly in horticultural crops (irrigated broad beans and beans) and irrigated poplar.
The numbers tell us, therefore, of an Autonomous Community of Agrarian La RiojaThe irrigation system is essential for the competitiveness of agriculture. It is also essential for the sustainability of agricultural activity. La Rioja is making an unprecedented commitment to irrigation by undertaking a significant number of irrigation modernisation and transformation projects. This action is possible thanks to the backing of funding from the Spanish Government and the European Union and the additional impetus of the regional government.
The Next Generation Fund opportunity
This investment is primarily leveraged by the Plan for efficiency and sustainability in irrigation of the Recovery Plan.The project, Transformation and Resilience, is co-financed by the European Union's Next Generation funds. The actions have a public contribution of up to 80 per cent of the cost of eligible expenses.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA)35.75 million from the funds of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan have been programmed to date in four irrigation modernisation projects in La Rioja. These have materialised in the signing of agreements of SEIASA with the Irrigation Communities for irrigation modernisation projects in the Najerilla river basin for the benefit of 7,453 irrigators in more than a dozen municipalities that cultivate more than 13,000 hectares.
This support is a recognition of the decisive action of the Autonomous Community of La Rioja with the Irrigation Communities for sustainability and the digitalisation in irrigation modernisation in solid, well-argued and worked on projects between the administration and irrigators.
In La Rioja as a whole, since 2019 the regional government has promoted ten irrigation modernisation projects on a total of 18,880 hectares of agricultural land and a planned investment of 165 million euros with financing from European funds in four of these projects; from the Rural Development Programme, the General State Budget and funds from the Autonomous Community of La Rioja.
The Administration and the irrigation communities that have made the leap to modernisation share the vision that sustainable irrigation is key to facing the challenges of climate change in agriculture and promoting a food production model that responds to the demands of the population and contributes to the necessary quantity and quality of food supply.
Investment in irrigation modernisation is investment in the present and future and the agri-food system.
It is a commitment to promote generational renewal, to act in the face of the demographic challenge and depopulation, in the face of climate change and in favour of maintaining the landscape and food sovereignty. It means investing in sustainable territories that are at the forefront of innovation.
Because our agricultural policy is resolutely focused on promoting a 21st century rural environment that is competitive, profitable, innovative, digital, sustainable, egalitarian and cohesive. In this vision, modernisation of irrigation systems is one of the main axes of the agricultural policy of the Government of La Rioja with the aim of modelling water efficiency in order to make it an optimised asset at the service of competitiveness and sustainability of agricultural activity.
Modernised irrigation improves the efficiency of irrigation water use; makes farms more productive and profitable; guarantees the availability of water on demand; and makes it easier to adapt to the evidence of climate change.; genera a revaluation of the assets of the holdings; fIt increases entrepreneurial activity and generational change; it has a lower environmental impact, reducing water consumption and diffuse nitrate pollution and achieves a better quality of life for the farmer, by incorporating new technologies and the capacity to programme all irrigation according to his needs.
The Government of La Rioja has promoted different models of irrigation modernisation adapted to territorial needs, as exemplified by these three projects in three different areas of La Rioja. In the Sierra de La Rioja Baja, in the area around Cornago, it has promoted the modernisation of an irrigation system as a decisive element in the fight against depopulation, through the generation of opportunities for local agriculture. The project covers an area of 100 hectares of high value-added intensive crops - fruit trees, vegetables and olive groves - and benefits around 100 irrigators in the Alhama-Linares river basin, with a total budget of 2.6 million euros.
In La Rioja Alta, in the area around San Asensio, the regional government has promoted the modernisation of irrigation to replace the current irrigation system using irrigation ditches with a piped irrigation system in the Acequia de San Asensio. This action will benefit 433 irrigators and a total surface area of 1,591 hectares. Vineyards are the majority crop in the area and the most notable feature is the young age of the members of the Irrigation Board, who are committed to a professional life option aimed at quality, competitive, profitable and sustainable viticulture. The work in the San Asensio Irrigation Community is part of the irrigation modernisation and consolidation works of general interest planned by the Ministry of Agriculture, which will be financed by the General State Budget, as part of the Irrigation Modernisation Plan, promoted by the Spanish Government, in collaboration with the Autonomous Communities.
And in the middle-lower Iregua river valley, in La Rioja media, an irrigation area that goes all the way to the city of Logroño, we are strongly promoting the continuity of agricultural activity for an agricultural valley. The irrigation area of the lower-middle Iregua river valley includes the irrigated land of the municipalities of nine municipalities, involves nine irrigation communities and encompasses 10,518 hectares of vineyards, cereals and fruit trees.
The Government of La Rioja has promoted the strategic project of common irrigation in the Iregua basin, with the drafting of the Iregua Irrigation Master Plan and the commissioning of the modernisation project to Tragsa, which has meant an investment of regional funds of 830,000 euros to lay the foundations for this action.
The Iregua irrigation modernisation project is a decisive action for the present and future of the valley, a defence of water in the valley, in order to to produce with fewer resources, to increase the competitiveness of agricultural activity in the area and to improve the quality of life in rural areas.
Currently, three out of every four hectares of crops in the Iregua valley are irrigated by blanket irrigation and only 5 % have modern irrigation systems with consumption volume control. The modernisation of irrigation would make it possible to modernise infrastructures and implement irrigation systems that allow for adequate control and management of resources and the development of efficient and automated irrigation installations.
Undoubtedly, the commitment to irrigation modernisation in the context of European recovery promotes sustainable development of our rural environment, by guaranteeing water savings and energy efficiency in irrigation.
We share the Spanish Government's conviction that sustainable irrigation, together with digitalisation and generational renewal, are the three pillars on which the agricultural activity model will be based in the near future.
Irrigation increases agricultural productivity sixfold, generates four times more income for farmers and three times more employment than other crops.
Sustainability is about optimising and conserving today's natural resources to secure tomorrow's needs.
It is time for efficient and sustainable irrigation because it provides greater stability and guarantees for food production. It is time to bring a future to our agricultural activity thanks to the efficient and sustainable management of such a precious resource as water. in a context of climate change, increased need for water resources and reduced water availability.