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A 28% reduction in water consumption thanks to tensiometers
Tomato farmers in the Mediterranean are struggling with unpredictable rainfall and water scarcity. Knorr has been co-funding the cost of simple tools to save water and help crops thrive. In the past seven years, an uncomplicated device has reduced by 28% the amount of water tomato farmers use across the Gastouni region in Greece – and it has revolutionised the way they work.
For growers who deliver tomatoes to the Gastouni plant, Unilever offered the option of using a tensiometer, a small probe that measures the amount of water present in the soil. A dial at surface level gives an at-a-glance guide to the conditions below ground. With several of them carefully placed across their land, farmers who cultivate crops for use in our Knorr sauces, soups and stocks can see in an instant when their tomato fields need irrigation, and water them accordingly.
Tomato growers received training to make the most of the new tool, and a task previously based on experience and estimates is now informed by real-time, reliable data.
The new device is saving farmers time, energy and a wealth of wasted water. In fact, water consumption went down from 86 litres per kilo of tomatoes to 56 litres per kilo between 2010 and 2017. Across Gastouni’s 600 hectares (1 480 acres), that is enough to make a considerable difference.
Saving water, increasing yields, improving taste
Swathes of land across Gastouni are now dotted with tensiometers, and the improvements have not just been in water conservation. Tomato yields have increased from 76 to 83 tonnes per hectare since introducing the new approach to irrigation.
Another welcome benefit is that Gastouni’s tomatoes are sweeter than ever. With the perfect amount of irrigation, they have a chance to ripen in just the right way, and that has been reflected by an increase in their brix level – the official measure of tomato quality content.
“This has helped us reduce cultivation costs, improve the quality of our crop and increase the fertility of our fields,” a grower told the Knorr team.
Last year, Knorr installed a telemetric network across Gastouni’s fields to provide even more accurate insights for tomato-growers, and the results are already looking good.
This work in Gastouni is just one of the programmes backed by the Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund – an initiative set up to support sustainable farming around the world.
Through the fund, Knorr supports water-saving projects that help farmers adjust the way they work in the face of increasing droughts and water scarcity.
Among the most recent projects, Knorr has been working with rice farmers in Arkansas, as well as onion growers in California, an area that has suffered extreme drought in recent years.
Participants in the post-congress tour of the 13th World Processing Tomato Congress in June 2018 will have the opportunity to visit the Unilever tomato fields and see these water saving initiatives in application.