Coming from international roles with Irrigaronne and Linsday Corporation, Yvain Mirabal is embarking on a new challenge heading up the new Macro Irrigation business unit at AQUA4D. Here he explains what convinced him to make this change – and how AQUA4D’s new Macro Irrigation solution might be about to change the world…

Yvain, what convinced you to make the move to Aqua4D?

Before this, I worked for Lindsay, a very large company working with pivot and hose reel irrigation. But in 2019, I met the AQUA4D CTO (Charles-Henri Faure) in Montpellier, France and was very intrigued by this technology. It’s a big change to jump from a large to a small company, but it’s such an exciting opportunity. As a green technology, this was also an important factor. My wife asked me “are you sure you want to take this risk?” and I replied that I didn’t think it is actually a risk, and that it is something in line with my vision for the world, so it makes sense in many ways.

What were your first impressions of AQUA4D® technology?

At the start I was skeptical as the tech was something totally new to me. I have a very scientific mind, and with this technology you don’t see with the naked eye what is happening to the water. With RO (Reverse Osmosis), for example, you see what is happening. With AQUA4D, to the naked eye the water that comes out looks the same as what went in. When you see the results, it seems almost too good to be true – solving biofilm, saving water, solving clogging and salinity, it seems almost miraculous. But the more videos, articles and academic publications I saw about how AQUA4D works, this became more scientific and tangible to me.

Of course, I need to be convinced to be able to convince other people. And now I’m thoroughly convinced. The approach of AQUA4D unique: we are selling a solution not a product. We are trying to help a grower facing an issue, by implementing a solution rather than just implementing a product. Today I am convinced that this technology can solve issues for many many farmers around the world.

Installation in the Central Valley, California

You mentioned reverse osmosis (RO), what makes AQUA4D different from such desalination technologies?

For me, they are very different – with high-level filtration like RO, you are not only removing salt but all the nutrients within. So you get desalinated water, but then to give to plants you have to put things back in. It doesn’t make sense to take everything out to then put things back in with chemicals – it’s inefficient. With AQUA4D we are not removing anything, we are just changing the way the elements are linked together. By reorganizing the structure of the water we help the water to clean the salinity in the soil, to help the plants and roots more easily access the nutrients without facing salinity problems.

Economically for growers, Reverse Osmosis does not make sense at all – it is expensive and uses a huge amount of energy, and also produces waste and effluence. AQUA4D makes much more economic sense for growers. But it is still not widely known. So the biggest challenge we have is educating the community and the growers on what this tech can solve.

And lastly of course is the fact that AQUA4D addresses a range of different issues, not just salinity.

What were you doing before and how does it relate to AQUA4D?

My whole career has revolved around water: from a swimming scholarship, to water treatment, to irrigation management for agronomy. So this new role with AQUA4D is very much a natural development.

In my previous role at Lindsay, I was responsible for irrigation scheduling. Actually, growers know how to irrigate but most don’t know how to irrigate to improve crop development. Most of the time, growers over-irrigate by not knowing the real needs of the plant. In my previous role I was educating growers to help improve irrigation efficiency.

This is very applicable to AQUA4D: we will save many resources by implementing our solution and educating growers how to irrigate more efficiently.

Certain growers are always ready to try new technology. However, we can explain everything with fancy slides and graphics, but ultimately growers will trust other growers, so the best way to persuade and explain AQUA4D is by testimonials. And with AQUA4D’s various testimonials and success cases, this is very convincing.

Can you introduce briefly the AQUA4D H-D project?

AQUA4D has had great results for micro irrigation but has not yet entered the macro irrigation market or commodity crops. So they have developed a new technology for treating huge flow-rates and large crops with macro irrigation, implementing water treatment directly on central pivots. This system will bring the same benefits to soil and plants, on a huge scale.

Sounds exciting. What potential do you see AQUA4D bringing to macro irrigation?

We are facing very key issues with water scarcity, as well as high energy prices. To run high mechanized pivot irrigation, this takes a lot of energy for pumping, so the potential electricity savings are huge if we can help growers reduce this. If we can persuade them they’re not just saving resources but saving money from their pocket, that is tangible.

In Spain for example, water scarcity is a big topic, but energy costs are even more important for the farmer themselves.  So we can say: by saving water, you will save money. And the cherry on the cake is that you’ll be able to increase yields because of better irrigation management and better soil humidity.

The potential is huge, because commodity crops like corn, soybean, potatoes, sugar take up a lot of surface area and need a lot of water. If we can reach just 10% of this market, that would be huge – not only for AQUA4D but the environment. Imagine if we could save 20% or even 60% water through better water management in macro irrigation… this would save many billions of cubic meters of water around the world – a huge positive impact on people, the environment and carbon footprints.

What do the next 6-12 months look like for you and for AQUA4D?

Well, 2020 has been a funny time to start working with the company, but it’s also made for a more familiar atmosphere – I’ve been made to feel very welcome with a nice evening of raclette and wine at the office etc. 2021 will see me on the road a lot more, focused on the validation of the technology in open fields.

We won an EU project to implement this; we already have 3 units ready to be shipped to Brazil. This will run from Feb to July, in collaboration with West Bahia University there. Parallel to this is a project in Nebraska, USA, overseen by the university there, and 3 systems being tested in Spain in collaboration with CREA in Albacete. We are validating the new system on maize, soybean and sunflower crops.

My next year will focus on securing the validation protocols and how the system is being used, and reporting back scientifically-validated data.

The step after that will be validation by third-party academic studies. We are quite confident this new system for macro irrigation will have significant and exciting results on these open field crops, including combatting salinity, pests and water inefficiency, while also increasing yields and reducing energy consumption. There are a lot of people very curious and excited to see what happens with our new technology over the next year, so this is very positive and exciting for me.

Thanks for your time, Yvain!

More about AQUA4D’s EU-funded macro irrigation expansion:
Video with agronomist reports from California, Chile, Peru and Spain:
  • Switzerland
  • Water-Smart Agriculture

  • Precision Irrigation

Large-scale pivot irrigation in Kansas, US