Foto Koen Greven
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In the countryside of Murcia, Spain, Dutch company Bejo has built two huge basins at the end of a dried up trail of devastating mud flows. Water is collected for use during dry periods on the rare days when the rain cascades down. Special plants and some algae-eating fish keep the water clean in a natural way. An apparently simple solution to water shortages. But you have to think it up, finance it and then be able to carry it out successfully.

A fine example of Dutch water management, as you might call the innovative invention from the seed breeders. Enormous basins have recently been installed a few dozen kilometers from El Mar Menor on the land of the Bejo model farm. These hold some 80,000 cubic meters of water. A 20 hectare breeding facility produces seeds that thrive in this region along the A30 between Murcia and Cartagena. This desert-like area is also referred to as the vegetable garden of Europe. Spinach, lettuce and cauliflower are produced there in the winter for Northern Europe.

Very expensive raw material

The Murcia region is traditionally known for its many hours of sunshine and limited number of rainy days. Plus its mild, stable temperature and its dry ground. This seems ideal, but one crucial raw material is lacking in Murcia: water. Growers in the region have various ways of accessing water for the dry periods. Wells, supplies from elsewhere and desalination of seawater. These alternatives are usually inadequate during periods of severe drought. And then all of a sudden water becomes a very expensive raw material.

Incidentally, it’s not the case that there is never any water raining down. In the wake of climate change, dry periods are more and more often interspersed with brief, severe storms. Which usually result in so much rain that a trail of destruction from the mountains sweeps across the land to the coast. Even though there is an abundance of water for a brief period, if it’s not harnessed, it vanishes like snow in the sun. Which is why Bejo’s management has come up with a clever solution.

Spanish neighbors are jealous

The Dutch family business invests 10% of its annual turnover (€275 million) in research and development, partly in view of climate and economic changes. The construction of the reservoirs is in line with this strategy. Bejo had a new €230,000 water collection facility built in 2018, close to the old, elevated water reservoir that was filled with rainwater. It was placed in the bed where water passes during bad weather so that the basin fills up automatically in the event of such a deluge. A filter system was installed to exclude any debris that was dragged in with the water.

Then it was just a matter of waiting for the rain. That didn’t take long. In the past year, all kinds of storms have swept over the company. The reservoir is nicely filled this winter. A lot of Spanish neighbors are jealous. It’s a wonder why they haven’t been able to figure this out for themselves by now …

Also read about Field Factors, the Dutch-Spanish Start-up of the Month