The water-saving secret to sweeter tomatoes
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 the amount of water our tomato farmers across the Gastouni region in Greece use by 28% – and it’s revolutionised the way they work.
So what is this remarkable gadget? It’s called a tensiometer and it’s a small probe that measures the amount of water present in 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.
They’ve 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.
It’s 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 6 million square metres, that’s enough to make a considerable difference.
The reduction in water consumption at our tomato fields in Gastouni thanks to tensiometers
Swathes of land across Gastouni are now dotted with tensiometers, and the improvements haven’t 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’s been reflected by an increase in their brix level – the official measure of tomato sweetness.
“This has helped us reduce cultivation costs, improve the quality of our crop and increase the fertility of our fields,” one farmer told the Knorr team.
Another said he was thrilled that, because of the sustainable practices he had put in place at his farm, his sons had agreed to remain in the village. They would continue his family business growing tomatoes – taking the farm into the next generation.
Last year, we installed a telemetric network across Gastouni’s fields to provide even more accurate insights for tomato-growers, and the results are already looking good.
Local farmers pictured with a water-monitoring weather station, installed by the Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund
This has helped us reduce cultivation costs, improve the quality of our crop and increase the fertility of our fields.A Gastouni farmer
Our 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 is co-funding a programme to trial a range of water-saving techniques for the brand’s rice farmers in Arkansas, US. The University of Arkansas will also be involved, providing technical assistance to help measure results.
Meanwhile in California, an area which has suffered extreme drought in recent years, Knorr has helped to replace the inefficient sprinklers used by its onion farmers with water-saving drip irrigation systems. Thanks to the brand’s support, farmers have been able to increase yields, reduce the amount of artificial fertilisers used, and save water.
“At Knorr, we know people want products which taste great but are also natural, nutritious and sustainably grown,” says Knorr Sustainability Manager Elinor Newman-Beckett.
“The Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund helps farmers grow ingredients in a way that’s better for the environment, and it helps them to become more resilient in the face of water scarcity.”
The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code covers practices that all our suppliers should strive to achieve. We expect all our suppliers of agricultural raw materials to agree to minimum standards of performance and to continuous improvements over time.