José Mª González holds a degree in Agricultural Engineering and a PhD in Hydraulic Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. He is the current president of the Spanish Association of Irrigation and Drainage (AERYD)This entity was created in 1985 with the aim of improving information and increasing the participation of Spanish irrigation technicians in risk management tasks. ICID (International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage).
Throughout his professional life, González has directed, carried out and participated in a multitude of projects related fundamentally to hydraulic engineering: dams, reservoirs, canals, irrigation, etc. and river engineering: protection works in watercourses or actions against floods.
Internationally, it has worked on actions and prospecting missions in various countries such as Tunisia, Mali, Croatia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Angola and Egypt, among others.
He has also been an associate lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Madrid and has been involved for many years in a large number of masters and postgraduate courses as a module director and lecturer in subjects related mainly to dam and reservoir engineering and river engineering.
He is the author of several technical publications and numerous contributions to national and international congresses and technical conferences. He is currently working as a water engineering expert at TragsatecHe has previously held the position of Water Engineering Area Manager for 8 years.
He is also a collaborating member of the Spanish National Committee for Large Dams (SPANCOLD) and a member of the Spanish Society of Dams and Reservoirs (SEPREM).
What is the role of the Spanish Association of Irrigation and Drainage (AERYD)?
AERYD is a non-profit association whose aim is to promote irrigation in Spain through collaboration between the scientific-technical, business and institutional sectors and irrigation water users.
Its mission is to generate ideas that strengthen and enhance the irrigation sector through collaboration between its agents and, in this way, contribute to the progress and welfare of society in general. Its main objectives focus on facilitating the connection and interaction of the different agents in the sector, promoting the generation and dissemination of knowledge, and promoting the capacity and experience of the sector.
What does digitalisation mean for AERYD?
For the Spanish Irrigation and Drainage Association, the digitalisation of the irrigation sector represents an opportunity to integrate the knowledge and progress developed in technological areas, providing solid tools in the management and handling of water in Spanish irrigation.
The Association's doors are open to the actors involved in the development of digitalisation in all its aspects (sensors, decision support systems, artificial intelligence, etc.) with a view to improving Spanish irrigation.
What would you say is the current state of digitalisation of the irrigation sector in Spain?
In the irrigation sector, and focusing on the Irrigation Communities, the digitalisation process is progressing in parallel with the Irrigation Modernisation plans promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the support of European funds.
Within this process, it is worth highlighting the increasing inclusion of remote control systems for hydrants, together with sophisticated equipment for managing catchments and pressurisation and pumping stations, without forgetting the existence and increasing implementation of an Agro-climatic Information System for Irrigation (SiAR) that complements the digitalisation carried out by the CCRRs in their facilities, facilitating all of this, and increasingly so, the efficient management of irrigation.
What has this digitisation been like, is it homogenous, where and why are there differences in the sector?
Digitalisation as such in the rural world, and specifically in the field of irrigation, rather than digitalisation in the strict sense, has been a very gradual introduction of technology to the end user, the farmer, which has allowed him to successfully adapt to the new.
In the early 2000s, when mobile phones were not yet "smart" and were only used to make phone calls, the adaptation period to a remote control system in a modernised irrigation area was approximately three years, until the irrigator had assimilated a way of irrigating with a control system and external operation, as well as a collective irrigation system.
Today, the adaptation of the sector to an app installed on a smartphone is almost immediate, and irrigators are also very familiar with the web environment.
Regarding the issue of homogeneity, there are currently still important areas of Spain where irrigation modernisation has not yet reached, and which, therefore, do not have the advances linked to digitalisation. The weight of irrigation communities in the different autonomous communities is also different, as is the importance given to water as a finite resource, even though this aspect is finally recognised by all farmers, managers and politicians, in short, by all stakeholders. In summary, it could be said that there are still evident differences between those irrigation communities or irrigable areas in which investments linked to modernisation have not been made and those that have been able to carry them out.
What have been the phases or milestones in the digitisation of the sector, and why have they been happening?
The process of digitalisation in the irrigation sector has been progressing as the control and management systems of pumping stations have become technologically outdated, together with the imperative need to reduce water consumption in irrigation, making it more sustainable, transforming gravity/sprinkler irrigation systems into localised irrigation systems, which are more efficient both from the point of view of water use and energy requirements (compared to sprinkler irrigation).
The obsolescence of the installations has turned out to be a key factor for those irrigation networks, built in the 20th century, to be modernised and incorporate the existing digital elements (remote control, SCADA EEBB, sensors, etc.). Furthermore, there is a growing sensitivity on the part of the farmer and also a higher technological level, which means that they are incorporating irrigation monitoring and control elements in their plots that facilitate decision making, in terms of when and with what amount of water to irrigate, depending on the crop and environmental conditions, always adapting to the availability of water.
What are the major benefits of digitisation?
Digitalisation will allow, and already allows, the optimisation of decisions and actions related to irrigation, improving the efficiency, sustainability and profitability of traditional homogeneous treatments by applying only the quantities of water, nutrients and phytosanitary products that are really necessary. In the medium term, these developments should increase the overall efficiency of irrigation production systems, reducing their impact on the environment.
Which solutions have made the biggest breakthrough for the sector?
One of the developments which, according to the farmers, has meant the greatest progress and without which they would not be able to carry out their work properly today, is the GPS device installed on their tractor, which allows them to optimise passes and avoid overlaps, which not only leads to significant savings in resources (fertilisers, fungicides, etc.) but also to a great improvement in the quality of the work to be carried out.
The introduction and increasing use of sensors that make it possible to know the water stress of plants on farms, and the integration of all this digital information with agronomic knowledge, is making it possible to arrive at the so called smart irrigationwhich is automatically answering key questions such as how much, when and where to irrigate, as well as when, how much and where to apply fertilisers.
Artificial intelligence in a combination of humidity probes, nitrate levels, etc. in plots, together with information from satellite images and predictions of environmental conditions allow irrigation to be requested at the most suitable times, so that the plant does not suffer water stress and water use is carried out at the most suitable times.
What difficulties are there for progress in this regard?
The experts on this subject agree that we are at a critical moment in terms of the digitalisation process of irrigation, since the technological development is there, but there is a lack of knowledge, training, discussion, etc.
Communications are advancing rapidly and sensors are becoming cheaper, but there is a great need for more training to introduce these technologies to technicians first, so that they can pass them on to the farmer. The ultimate goal should be for the user to see the usefulness of the technology applied to their farm.
There are still some initiatives and work to be done here, especially in the less advanced areas, in order to make the definitive leap. The existence of an intermediate entity between the technology and the end user (farmer) is key to speed up the necessary transfer of knowledge.
How can the institutions support this digitalisation and does the PERTE provide the right incentive for this digital transformation?
The main objectives of the new irrigation modernisation actions are: to reduce water consumption in agriculture, to consolidate sustainable and competitive food production and to improve energy efficiency.
The investment in irrigation modernisation of 563 million euros contemplated in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan will be the largest public injection in this area in recent decades. To this amount must be added the contributions of the irrigation communities, which will mean a total investment of around 700 million euros. These investments must be key to consolidating progress in the sustainability, efficiency and technification of Spanish irrigation, as well as in improving the productivity and profitability of the agricultural sector.
What does AERYD foresee in the future of digitalisation of the water cycle?
AERYD believes that the different digitalisation techniques applied to agriculture offer multiple opportunities to improve its productivity and sustainability.
A revolution is expected in the coming years in this sense, with an increase in the use of sensors that allow us to know the water stress of plants on farms, and the integration of all this digital information with agronomic knowledge. The monitoring of the soil-plant-atmosphere system with sensors, the use of multispectral images and the agronomic analysis of all this information will make it possible to arrive at the so called smart irrigationwhich will automatically answer key questions such as how much, when and where to irrigate, as well as when, how much and where to apply fertilisers.
Digitalisation will enable distributed processing of information to optimise decisions and actions related to irrigation, improving the efficiency, sustainability and profitability of traditional homogeneous treatments by applying only the quantities of water, nutrients and phytosanitary products that are really necessary. In the medium term, these developments should increase the overall efficiency of irrigation production systems, reducing their impact on the environment.