Is Growing Food in the Desert the Future of Agriculture?
How a desert environment may be able to sustain food production
That’s right, we said desert farming. And saltwater. Most people would tell you those two situations would be incompatible with farming, but recent advances in technology have led some companies to be able to grow produce in the desert using simply sunlight and seawater!
In 2016, Sundrop Farms in the South Australian desert expanded its indoor farming operation and managed to grow 17,000 tons (!) of tomatoes in one year. The farm gets its seawater from the nearby Spencer Gulf, where the water is desalinated on-site, which removes the salt, making it ready for plants.
Sundrop Farms grows everything inside a greenhouse, using a combination of coconut husks and saltwater-soaked cardboard at the base of the plants, to protect them from the intense heat. And because the plants are grown in a greenhouse, they are protected from the cooler winter temperatures as well. Greenhouse growing also dramatically reduces the need for pesticides, as growers can more closely monitor plants and control the growing environment.
Desert Farming Around The Globe
Remote Australia isn’t the only place exploring the possibilities of desert farming and seawater agriculture. A UK-based company, Seawater Greenhouse, has launched plantation projects in dry areas around the world to produce fruits and vegetables.
Using a similar method to Sundrop Farms, Seawater Greenhouse uses structures of dampened cardboard which allows air to flow over the damp cardboard, creating a cooling effect. Though this concept has been used to cool humans for centuries, using it to keep plants cool is a relatively new concept.
A solar powered pump pushes seawater to the top of the cardboard structure, which allows water to trickle down the sides. The salt evaporates to the outside of the structure, which creates additional support for the structure and can also be harvested. This method of desert farming is less expensive, and could even be achieved by a homesteader on a smaller scale!
A Promising Future for Desert Farming
So far this new technique has been incredibly successful. The company completed a project in Somaliland in November of 2017, which now produces 300-700 tons of tomatoes annually!
Researcher Robert Park from the University of New England in Australia believes that, “systems using renewable energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future, contributing even more of some of our foods.”
Desert living and farming can pose some unique challenges, however, these projects show that it’s possible to grow food even in some of the driest climates.