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Alberto Femenia on water savings and nematode control in Argentina

Alberto Femenia sits before us wearing an immaculate suit and a wise smile. He’s a true veteran in the agri-business, having headed up Casa Femenia for almost half a century. It’s a family business in every sense of the world – it dates way back to 1904, and his sons now also help run day-to-day operations.

Renowned for innovation and staying ahead of the game, they were the first company to introduce the Aqua-4D® system to Argentina and have had some astounding results in a short time. In Berlin at FruitLogistica 2019, we took some time out to discuss everything from Mendoza’s famous vineyards to the impact of the Argentinian economy.

What first prompted you to introduce the Aqua-4D® system to growers in Argentina?

We’ve always been incorporating new technologies, always introducing new things, things that the world is asking for. And this technology is something very innovative and completely new. For us at the company, it took just 4 months to convince us and for us to say ‘yes’.  Once we were convinced we turned very quickly into people who knew a lot about this system and the way it works, to help our clients. Because with this system it’s not just a case of saying ‘OK I’m selling this, I’ll bring some along and that’s it’. It’s a product in which you need to accompany the client not just in the use of the system but the results that could arise as a consequence of its use.

It’s a new, clean technology, without additional costs, offering very long-term uses and a very fast Return on Investment. That’s to say, the ROI is very quick and offers instant useful benefits in terms of not having to pay for chemical products.

With this system, it’s almost hard to believe the variety of different things that just one single system can do. With our experience, the clients trust us to try something for which, although there were others from all over the world, at the beginning there were not yet any testimonials in this area. And now, in our area we have 8 systems in place in just one year.

Surveying a new Aqua-4D® installation on a pivot system

What are some of the use cases you’ve seen?

It’s very varied – farms, viticulture, and in terms of different types of problems such as with the soil or with nematodes. For nematodes with pivot systems it’s particularly interesting because the cost of implementation is particularly important and costs savings in applying nematicides.

We also have greenhouse cases, and also a first case in the poultry industry which is installing right now. It’s a very wide range, and the range of problems arising in these different cases is also very wide. So this gives us a diversity of potential clients which could be interested in this product.

Argentina has been going through some turbulent economic times – has this affected agriculture?

Look, the problems in Argentina are very specific to this country, and that is the inflation of the economy, and the impact this has. This means that the adoption of new technology is often more difficult in this country. As the dollar/peso price is always fluctuating, this gives a certain flexibility when dealing with other countries – at times we are expensive, at other times we are cheap – but it can be difficult to maintain clients overseas with all these ups and downs.

What role does the Argentinian climate play in agriculture?

It’s a country in which we have the four different types of climate. Extremes of all kinds. Excessive temperatures, excessive rains, not enough rains.

In Mendoza, our annual average is 200mm in a year, and that can come in the space of 1 or 2 months, so we can’t depend on the rains at all. Our main year-round source is the melts of the Cordillera.

What are some agricultural problems particular to your area which the Aqua-4D® system has helped solve?

In our particular case, the water at a high level of conductivity, a problem which it is proven time and again that this system can solve.

We have to explain to people that the system is not a water softener but instead something which is taking the salt out of the soil and leave them at the salts level that we’re delivering with the water. For example, if we have water which is 700 micro mhos, which is normal in our province, as salts accumulate in the soil, no matter how much – sometimes up to 4000 – we will lower that. According to the salt in the water which is used, the exact same amount will be left in the soil.

Another thing is the control of nematode populations; we need to do a verification before, during and after, so that we can have accurate comparisons of what we’re doing. There is never any moment where we sell to the client and then they never see us again; we have permanent contact with the client. It’s not about a mere sale, it’s about continuity over time.

Could you tell us something about your successful case involving the vineyard in Mendoza?

This was a case where the soil was made up of a lot of clay, and where we say a reaction to the Aqua-4D® system in this soil in just 15 days.  That’s to say, there was a change in the soil which was completely saturated with water as it was clayey. What happened is that the Aqua-4D® system managed to destructure it and leave pores in which the water could infiltrate. This problem has now been solved.

Then there was another case involving a Pivot system for carrot and corn crops over 44 hectares, which up to now has been 45 days of sowing and 20 more days before seed planting.  Here the nematodes are completely under control, and the water is of a high quality.

It’s incredible how the corn is developing, something we have also been monitoring using drones, which has helped us even more to verify the benefits brought about by purchasing this system.

 Installation of first FA-40 system in Mendoza winery Improved soil structure and electroconductivity

 Installation of first FA-40 system in Mendoza winery                                                                                   Improved soil structure and electroconductivity                          

How do you normally present this new innovation to clients?

Well, we’re talking about a technology which is something completely different. What we want to demonstrate to the client is that it’s not something we just want to sell and take the money and that’s it.

It’ll be a change which will bring a whole series of benefits which can be hard to believe, as it was for us too initially. Our objective is to demonstrate to people that it’s also something for which the results are easy to prove.

What are some of the benefits the growers around Mendoza have seen?

In this case, since January 2018 the foliar reaction is 100% more. Compared to this previous year where some plants and leaves were completely dry and scorched, they are blooming this year uniformly at 20, 25 cm. This year, there are no scorched leaves at all. The producer was not getting the yields they should have been. Now, after making physical changes to production, the owner and the on-site engineer believe that throughout this year they will be seeing double the yields compared to last year.

What do you think was the reason for these changes?

The elimination of salts in this soil has been very important for lives of the plants. If we look at the plants now, they’re totally vital and full of life. This has completely proved to the client that this is worth it. We saw changes within 15 days of connecting the system, after which they decided straight away to buy the second system.

Mendoza carrots after salt elimination by Aqua-4D®

What kind of water savings did you see?

From 15 hours per hectare, they reduced to just 5 hours. And so merely in terms of resources, this has been a monumental change. As a consequence, for the next harvest they managed to increase the growth of the plant by 25cm.

There are still some problems but here is where we coordinate with the engineer on site, because they are problems which existed prior to the installation of the Aqua-4D® system, independent prior problems.

In summary, how has this technology helped local growers in Argentina so far?

As a consequence of all that we’ve implemented in Mendoza, we can definitively say that this is a product which will accompany a producer in all senses of the word. It will help with not having to use unnecessary chemicals. It will help with water savings – irrigation for just 5 hours instead of 15 hours, for example. In one example here it has literally saved a vineyard.

It’s also product which requires almost no maintenance, you install it and it works. Finally, it’s not necessarily something where you see the difference in a year – you’ll see the difference within weeks, there’s no need to wait.

Basically, we give thanks to Switzerland’s Aqua-4D®. It’s not a cheap solution, of course, but there is a more or less immediate return on investment. We are very thankful to all at Aqua-4D® for the support they’re giving us.

Alberto Femenia, thank you!