Right after the mid-term plenary meeting in Lisbon in November 2017, on Thursday 9 we went on a field visit to the study area in the Alentejo region. This includes the reservoirs and irrigation areas of the Esporão, Vigia and Monte Novo reservoirs, near the beautiful city of Évora. The visit was organised and guided by our hosts in Portugal and INNOMED team members, Paulo Diogo and Pedro Beça.
The visit to the Herdade do Esporao in Reguengos de Monsaraz was especially relevant to project, as it is a perfect example of how a careful water management can improve at the same time the irrigation water productivity and the quality of the crop. The visit was guided by Rui Flores, the Agriculture Manager of the Herdade. For those of you that can not just go and visit the Herdade in the weekend, I highly recommend a visit to their website.
The farm has around 450 has of vineyards and 80 has of olive orchards, all irrigated and cultivated according to organic farming rules. In the middle of the farm lays the Esporão Reservoir, a privately owned and managed reservoir that serves the requirements of the farm. Sustainable farming and a totally automated irrigation system, allows the management of water use, in some cases reducing the average water use to as much as 30% of the typical values in the Alentejo region, which constitutes a huge water saving that becomes especially relevant during severe droughts such as the one the region was undergoing in 2017.
Monitoring soil humidity in more than 60 spots within the property to account for different soil types and topographic configurations allow for a very precise determination of the irrigation needs of the crops. Besides, the water deficit in the plants is also monitored by in-field measurements of the leaf water potential, which are carried out before and after each new irrigation. This allows determining not only when, but also the exact amount of irrigation being applied to each irrigation sector. The main result is not only a reduction in the amount of water used, but also an increase in the quality of the fruits. The induction of a certain level of hydric stress during the appropriate moments of the crop phenology allows for a much desired increase in the quality of the fruits at harvest, and the monitoring allows nailing the timing and the level of stress being applied.