Could Salt Water Be the Solution to Future Irrigation Woes?


The large bulk– 97 percent– of the earth’s water is salt water discovered in our oceans. Another 2 percent is kept in ice caps or glaciers. That leaves simply one percent of all water in the world for routine human usage: consuming, drinking and growing food. And we’re handling an ever-dwindling supply. A 2013 study revealed that about 40 percent of the world’s population resides in areas where need for water goes beyond supply.

When it concerns the freshwater supply that we do have, we utilize about 70 percent of it for watering. Quotes out of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reveal that, by 2050, we’ll need to increase our global food supply by 60 percent. We just have the freshwater resources to increase food supply by 10 percent. We actually do not have sufficient water to grow the food we will require in the coming years.

Unfortunately, you can’t water plants with seawater due to the fact that it’s too thick. The salt weighs the thin down, and the plant isn’t able to absorb it through the soil. Rather, the greater salt levels will in fact leech water out of the plant, and it will ultimately pass away and shrivel.

But what if we could alter that?

There have actually been efforts and research studies before. A British business developed an irrigation system that depend on seawater, and a Dutch farmer try out degrees of salinity on his row crops in 2014. Previously this year, the USDA granted a $10-million grant to scientists at the University of Florida and Clemson University who are taking a look at presenting seawater into watering. One business is coming at the concern from a various angle: the crops themselves.


Tomatoes grown with seawater at Red Sea Farms. Photography thanks to Red Sea.

The appropriately called Red Sea Farms, based in Saudi Arabia, is working to develop plants that can be watered with seawater. Through selective breeding, the group at Red Sea is upping the salinity tolerance of crops, producing hardier crops able to grow in salted conditions. “We’ve done screening from a state-of-the-art, extremely regulated greenhouse to an open field in Egypt,” states Ryan Lefers, CEO and co-founder. “When the conditions are actually hard– it’s hot, it’s salted, it’s dry– that’s when you see the genuine advantage of our rootstocks. In a few of our early-stage screening in Egypt, we’ve seen as much as double the yields in those actually hard conditions.”

Founded in 2018 through the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the business studied typical crops and the troubles with growing them in desert areas without substantial quantities of energy and water resources. Together with his co-founder, Mark Tester, Lefer started taking a look at tomatoes and their wild cousins. There are some types of wild tomatoes that grow completely in seawater, however they do not produce tasty fruit. Tester and Lefer worked to get the salinity tolerance of those wild tomatoes into our daily tomato plant.

“[Tester] had an ‘aha’ minute about 3 years back, where he understood that a great deal of greenhouse tomatoes are in fact implanted,” states Lefer. “So, he might concentrate on establishing a rootstock that had excellent salinity tolerance, in addition to heat tolerance, and after that it simply advanced from there.”

The tomatoes grown by Red Sea are usually sweeter than other grape or cherry tomatoes, as the plant produces more sugar to combat the greater salt levels. Red Sea currently offers some ranges of its tomatoes throughout Saudi Arabia, and it is dealing with growing peppers, cucumbers, squash and melons. Lefer states they’re not rather as far in addition to a few of those plants, due to the fact that they have a various plant and root system. With plants that are implanted, such as watermelons and pumpkins, the procedure is mostly the exact same.


Photography thanks to Red Sea Farms.

Beyond offering the real fruits, however, Red Sea is working to get its seedlings into the marketplace, so growers can bring salt-water-tolerant plants to their cities. “We’re beginning to onboard nursery partners that can accredit the innovation, so they would offer the seedlings into the marketplace.” Now, Lefer and his group use their own greenhouses and nurseries to grow seedlings and will likewise look to offer them to customers.

The surprise advantage of growing salt-tolerant plants within a greenhouse system is that it might in fact aid with total water use and usage. In a hydroponic system, water is recirculated. As that water recirculates, the salt chloride in the water constructs up. Growing plants with greater salinity tolerance enables you to utilize that water longer, due to the fact that the plants have a resistance to those accumulations. “[That can], for that reason, minimize fertilizer inputs and likewise minimize discharge of water that’s both salted and has a great deal of fertilizer, which tends to enter into a lagoon.”

Of course, there are issues about utilizing seawater in open fields. The salt will develop up and the field might end up being hostile to other plants in the future if you solely water with salt water in one location. Lefer states keeping this in mind and keeping a firm hand on the crop rotation and management is the very best method to avoid this. “It all boils down to management,” he states. “When watering with seawater, one need to thoroughly think about soil type and likewise handle watering and crop choice in a correct method to seep salts out of the root zone.”


Checking saline levels at Red Sea Farms.

As our readily available supply of freshwater reduces, desert farmers will need to make some hard choices. They can grow less crops or move far from food crops intodesert-friendly plantings Or perhaps they will need to stop farming completely. Watering with seawater might enable farmers in arid region s to grow more crops or to broaden the variety of plants readily available to them. Lefer states he and Tester began their research study with the objective of making farming much easier in the worst conditions, however he’s discovered that this research study has applications all over the world.

” We were expecting the future by concentrating on a present truth for a minimal area of farming,” states Lefer. “What’s taken place is that, due to the fact that we were concentrating on those minimal conditions with high heat and high salt, it’s benefited back into mainstream farming, due to the fact that mainstream farming is now dealing with these conditions increasingly more.”

The post Could Salt Water Be the Solution to Future Irrigation Woes? appeared initially on Modern Farmer.


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