Precision agriculture: irrigation without overconsumption

By 2050, irrigation will be the key to feeding society, guaranteeing agricultural production and mitigating water scarcity caused by climate events. The risk is that these increases in irrigation water requirements will lead to conflicts with other uses (human, environmental and industrial). Scientists are developing innovative methods and techniques to irrigate while respecting aquatic environments.

What type of irrigation can meet tomorrow's challenges?

By 2050, we will be using increasing amounts of water to feed ourselves. Enjoy this entertaining 2.5-minute video providing an overview of Irstea's research on irrigation (water governance and precision irrigation).

Innovations: precision irrigation

In order to provide crops with the right amount of water, Irstea's scientists are studying innovative technologies. From the use of drones and sensors to reusing wastewater, precision irrigation is a wide and promising field of research.

Irrigation with treated wastewater

Wastewater storage tank

A relevant local solution to saving water and conserving its quality, maximizing nutrient levels for agricultural purposes and reducing environmental pressures.


Subsurface drip irrigation technique

Irrigation © Irstea - JMB

Irrigation with just enough water: that's the very definition of subsurface drip irrigation.

An innovation platform for precision irrigation

A closer look at the PReSTI platform, dedicated to innovating irrigation materials and practices. 

Agrivoltaics - managing water and producing sustainable energy.

Water resource management software

Irrigation cannon © Irstea / JM Le Bars
Optirig is a simulation software used to plan irrigation according to yield targets and changing climate conditions. Contact us to obtain a license. 

Evaluates and encourages water savings

Irrigation © Irstea - JMB

Irstea experts have set up the first benchmark comparing possible water savings using various irrigation devices. The tool will now be used as a reference for grant applications relating to irrigation.

At a time when France is experiencing a net decrease in agricultural land area (51% of French land in 2012, source MEDDE 2014, compared to 70% as late as 1950), Irstea is looking at optimizing irrigation and growing plants under solar panels.

The agrivoltaic system set up at Irstea Montpellier in partnership with Inra and Sun'R combines ground level crops with solar panels fixed at a height of 4.5m above ground using an open supporting wooden structure for mechanized farming. Not only has this system provided answers to current energy challenges, it has also allowed Irstea to focus specifically on plot shading for over 2 years.

Shading can change plants' water requirements and increase the productivity of crops growing under the panels, even in conditions of water stress. We have observed 20-30% water savings for plant irrigation as the solar panels keep plants shaded for part of the day.

Rethinking current water management practices 

As a common pool resource, water is the focus of competing uses. How can the proportion of water used for daily human, manufacturing or agricultural consumption be balanced with the proportion of water that must be returned to the environment?  In partnership with relevant stakeholders, Irstea is leading research into water governance.

[Opinion] Water management must include local consultations

In order to help farmers, managers, residents, etc. decide and act together, Irstea has developed participatory methods to support local authorities, using role-play and simulations. The aim is to create collective solutions adapted to the local context. 

Use conflicts: using role-playing to support public authorities

Wat-a-Game game board © Irstea

The Wat-a-Game kit is used to learn how to manage water and river basins by incorporating various scenarios that have an impact on available resources.