Innovation

Resource management sustainable agriculture solutions

The growth in the world population is inevitably accompanied by an increase in agricultural production, while the water resource is diminishing and the amount of arable land is decreasing significantly due to the urbanisation effect.

Farmers in all countries are now faced with a double challenge: to improve the productivity and yield of crops while preserving resources. Management of resource, and of water in particular, will be a critical issue in the years to come. SUEZ here and now stands side by side with farmers, to help them develop sustainable agriculture.

Build a sustainable agriculture, a world-wide challenge

The problem is easy to understand and difficult to resolve. In 2030 the population will be 9 billion inhabitants, against 7 billion today. A growth which, according to the FAO, will entail a 70% increase in agricultural production by 2050. Only the introduction of effective solutions that allow farmers to improve productivity while preserving resources, and especially water (today 70% of water consumption is used for agriculture), will enable to meet this challenge.

Aware of these stakes, SUEZ undertakes to support farmers with a circular economy approach and continuous improvement of their practices: reducing water and fertiliser consumption throughout the production cycle and use of organic matter.

Organic matter: a resource to be exploited

The use of organic matter enables new resources to be created: a locally-renewable energy or standardised compost. Advantage: methods of producing compost and energy are complementary and can be carried out side by side.

The Méta Bio Energies site in Combrée (Maine-et-Loire), for example, notably receives and processes biowaste from the Rungis market, about 250 tonnes per month. It produces up to 8,000 MWh electricity from the biowaste from Rungis as well as agriculture and municipal green waste, i.e. the equivalent of the electricity consumption of over 2,000 households. The electricity thus produced is distributed on the grid while the heat is sold to the neighbouring Solairgies plant, specialising in drying industrial and urban sludge. Moreover between 22,000 and 24,000 tonnes of compost are produced per year from this biowaste.

Developing effective agricultural solutions respectful of water and energy resources

SUEZ has joined forces with Terrena, the leading French agricultural cooperative with 22,000 farmers, to create a common company, a true incubator of technical solutions and services for the agricultural world. This company helps farmers better manage water on their farms, to maintain the productivity and yield of crops by means of a range of innovative solutions. The company develops 2 types of services:

  • Optimising water and energy consumption by the food processing industry: helping the cooperative’s industrial sites in reducing their consumption over the entire water cycle;
  • Utilising agricultural organic matter as a resource, for example by installing micro-methanisation processes in farms with high animal production.

 

 

SUEZ has developed a smart irrigation and fertirrigation[1] system which enables farmers to optimise their water, energy and fertiliser consumption, while maintaining or increasing their production.

This technology is based on the acquisition of external data (weather, cartography, soil, hydrological and foliar mapping, etc.) and in the field (collected by on-site sensors and hydraulic equipment), combined with multi-spectral images which, thanks to expert algorithms, permit assisted or automatic management of irrigation and fertirrigation equipment.

 Currently being deployed in the almond food processing industry in Lerida in Catalonia, this technology is particularly suitable for ligneous crops (fruit, nuts, vines).

[1] Irrigation of a plant with water containing soluble fertilisers

Protecting the water resource upstream by encouraging new agricultural models

Preserving the resource upstream, limiting inputs, reducing the impact of agricultural activity on the environment… the founding principles of biological agriculture are shared by SUEZ. Naturally the Group also undertakes to support this agriculture and help farmers who would like to convert their farms.

In 2012, SUEZ joined forces with the Groupement des Agriculteurs Biologiques d’Île-de-France (GAB IdF) [Ile-de-France Organic Farmers Group] so as to develop organic farming in an area covering 11 municipalities in Yvelines. The challenge is to protect the Flins Aubergenville water table, one of the largest drinking water reserves in western Paris supplying 500,000 Ile-de-France inhabitants, from pollution (chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, etc). The programme includes training, individual support for farmers in converting to organic farming and help with obtaining subsidies. To date, 140 hectares have been converted to organic farming.

Reusing waste water, a solution for tomorrow’s agriculture

The rationalised management of the water resource, although essential, is not sufficient to meet the challenge raised by water stress, which could affect 40% of the world population in 2035. The recycling of wastewater mainly for agricultural purposes is essential, and yet only 2% of collected wastewater is currently reused.

SUEZ is at the forefront in this field. Thanks to treatment techniques such as ultraviolet radiation, reverse osmosis or membrane filtration, the Group is in a position to recycle wastewater while avoiding polluting discharge. The use of ultrafiltration membranes is particularly effective for providing water suitable for agricultural and industrial needs. With 800 million m3 wastewater recycled every year, the SUEZ Group is now a leader in this field and is aiming to triple its supply of alternative water (obtained from recycling wastewater or desalination) by 2020.

Checking water quality with Nitrascope

The intensification of agricultural production leads to risks of pollution of surface and underground water, mainly by nitrates and pesticides. Farmers are now faced with a statutory obligation to take action to reduce water pollution.

The European Directive on nitrates of 4 March 2013 asks the Member States to monitor the nitrate concentration of surface and underground water, and to take the necessary measures to reduce it. SUEZ has developed Nitrascope, a tool which models the transfers of water and nitrates from the farm to the catchment area. It enables the current and future nitrate concentrations in the water tables to be diagnosed, action plans to be devised and their efficiency evaluated.

Keywords