[permaculture] First farm to grow veg in a desert using only sun and seawater | New Scientist
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Thu Oct 6 23:30:09 EDT 2016
First farm to grow veg in a desert using only sun and seawater | New
Daily news <https://www.newscientist.com/article_type/daily-news/>
6 October 2016
First farm to grow veg in a desert using only sun and seawater [image: The
future of farming?]
Sundrop farm: no fossil fuels required to grow 180,000 tomato plants
By Alice Klein
Sunshine and seawater. That’s all a new, futuristic-looking greenhouse
needs to produce 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes per year in the South Australian
It’s the first agricultural system of its kind in the world and uses no
soil, pesticides, fossil fuels or groundwater. As the demand for fresh
water and energy continues to rise, this might be the face of farming in
An international team of scientists have spent the last six years
fine-tuning the design – first with a pilot greenhouse built in 2010; then
with a commercial-scale facility that began construction in 2014 and was
officially launched today.
*How it works*
Seawater is piped 2 kilometres from the Spencer Gulf to Sundrop Farm
<http://www.sundropfarms.com/> – the 20-hectare site in the arid Port
Augusta region. A solar-powered desalination plant removes the salt,
creating enough fresh water to irrigate 180,000 tomato plants inside the
Scorching summer temperatures and dry conditions make the region unsuitable
for conventional farming, but the greenhouse is lined with seawater-soaked
cardboard to keep the plants cool enough to stay healthy. In winter, solar
heating keeps the greenhouse warm.
There is no need for pesticides as seawater cleans and sterilises the air,
and plants grow in coconut husks instead of soil.
The farm’s solar power is generated by 23,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight
towards a 115-metre high receiver tower. On a sunny day, up to 39 megawatts
of energy can be produced – enough to power the desalination plant and
supply the greenhouse’s electricity needs.
Tomatoes produced by the greenhouse have already started being sold in
Possible solar energy shortages in winter mean that the greenhouse still
needs to be hooked up to the grid for back-up, but gradual improvements to
the design will eliminate any reliance on fossil fuels, says Sundrop Farm
CEO Philipp Saumweber <http://www.sundropfarms.com/leadership/>.
The $200 million infrastructure makes the seawater greenhouse more
expensive to set up than traditional greenhouses, but the cost will pay off
long-term, says Saumweber. Conventional greenhouses are more expensive to
run on an annual basis because of the cost of fossil fuels, he says.
Sundrop is now planning to launch similar sustainable greenhouses in Portugal
and the US <http://www.sundropfarms.com/facilities/>, and another in
Australia. Other companies are also testing pilot seawater greenhouses in
desert areas of Oman <http://www.seawatergreenhouse.com/oman.html>, Qatar
and the United Arab Emirates
“These closed production systems are very clever,” says Robert Park
<http://sydney.edu.au/agriculture/academic_staff/robert.park.php> at the
University of Sydney, Australia. “I believe that systems using renewable
energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future,
contributing even more of some of our foods.”
However, Paul Kristiansen at the University of New England, Australia,
questions the need for energy-intensive tomato farming in a desert, when
there are ideal growing conditions in other parts of Australia.
“It’s a bit like crushing a garlic clove with a sledgehammer,” he says. “We
don’t have problems growing tomatoes in Australia.”
Nevertheless, the technology may become useful in the future if climate
change causes drought
in once-fertile regions, Kristiansen says. “Then it will be good to have
*Read more: To green the deserts, just add… seawater?
Kelp wanted: Pioneering the seaweed farm of the future
Or: Farm starts growing veg in a desert using only sun and seawater
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