Cutesolar : 5 key innovations
Know more about the innovation capacities of the South of Spain solar greenhouses : precision irrigation, genetic improvement, biological control, greenhouse covers and digitalisation
The agriculture developed in the solar greenhouses of southeast Spain has become a model of success worldwide for the merit of having converted an arid land into the largest orchard in Europe, capable of producing fresh fruit and vegetables of the highest quality throughout the year in an environmentally sustainable way.
The 35,000 hectares of solar greenhouses in the provinces of Almeria and Granada, which represent 0.25% of the total agricultural area of Spain, produce 4.5 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables, equivalent to the total amount of fruit and vegetables grown in Germany. This gives an idea of the productive capacity of these greenhouses, capable of supplying 500 million people with fresh and healthy vegetables all year round.
This has been possible thanks to constant innovation that has increased production, extended marketing calendars, ensured crop profitability, obtained high quality products and built an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable model. But not only that, the constant innovation of this sector has made it possible for its advances to be exported all over the world, which is why this area is known as Agro Valley, because it is here where the advances that will later be implemented in other parts of the world are researched, developed and tested.
Its mission is to "increase productivity, minimise risks and optimise resources to make agriculture a more profitable, sustainable and scalable sector", says Roberto García, director of Agri-Food Innovation at Grupo Cajamar. "In a context like the current one, in which global warming is leading us towards prolonged droughts and an unsustainable demographic increase, solar greenhouses are the most efficient, safe and sustainable alternative that exists to feed the world, which is why the Almeria model is being replicated in other countries with similar climates, such as Israel," García explains.
All this would not be possible without constant innovation which, in the case of solar greenhouses, covers five main areas:
- Precision technology for the use of water: water is the most limiting resource for food production in the world. In Almeria, where 24% of the land is arid, water is a scarce commodity, which is why greenhouse crops optimise water resources to the maximum by means of precision technology that guarantees the rational and efficient use of water, which has allowed them to be at the forefront worldwide in terms of optimising water resources.
In addition to the traditional technique of sanding, drip irrigation, high-frequency localised irrigation controlled by computer systems or irrigation connected to climate control systems in greenhouses (based on the use of temperature, humidity and wind probes) have been added, thus achieving continuous water savings.
- Genetic improvement: Almeria is home to the world's major plant biotechnology companies. "We are talking about a dozen multinationals that control 90% of the world seed market, who have set up their experimentation and development centres for horticultural species adapted to warm climates in this province", reveals Roberto García. In these centres, research is being carried out into new varieties that are better adapted to hot climates and are more resistant to pests. They are also experimenting with seeds whose fruits vary in size, shape, colour and taste.
- Biological control: the solar greenhouses in south-eastern Spain are also world leaders in the implementation of biological control (the use of good insects that kill the pests that affect crops) to the detriment of phytosanitary products. Of the 35,000 hectares of protected crops in Almeria and Granada, 75% use biological control. This practice enhances the quality of fruit and vegetables while favouring biodiversity and environmental sustainability.
- Greenhouse covers: although they may seem very simple, the plastic covers used in greenhouses are the result of years of research and innovation, which is why Almeria has become the largest research, production and recycling area for greenhouse plastics in the world. "The merit of these sophisticated plastics is that they have managed to optimise the conditions in which crops are grown with the lowest energy consumption," García points out. These continuous improvements in the external structures of the greenhouses have made it possible to increase crop productivity and optimise water and energy resources.
- Digitalisation: big data, artificial intelligence, drones, sensors, digital mapping, blockchain technology, machine learning, robotics... Digitalisation has reached all sectors and the greenhouse sector has not escaped this revolution either. The digitisation of agriculture, understood as the use of data-based technologies to optimise decision-making at all stages of the production cycle, seeks to increase efficiency and productivity in crops with the lowest use of inputs.
What is a solar greenhouse?
A solar greenhouse is an enclosed structure covered with plastic sheeting that lets in the sunlight and light that plants need to maintain a temperature during the winter months that is conducive to their development, so that they can carry out photosynthesis. The plants extract nutrients from the CO2 they capture from the air and release huge amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere. Solar greenhouses differ considerably from the production methods used by other types of greenhouses, where heating and lighting systems are mainly powered by fossil fuels, which require up to 30% more energy and are much more polluting.
What is not a solar greenhouse?
A solar greenhouse is not a greenhouse covered with photovoltaic panels, which convert solar energy into electrical energy that is used to artificially heat or light the plantations.
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