With Seawater and Solar Power, Tomatoes Grow in the Desert
Who'd have ever thought you could grow tomatoes in such an arid spot -- and without fresh water? This is revolutionary!
No fossil-fuels, no freshwater, and no soil -- that doesn't sound like a recipe for farming success. Add in a desert location and it sounds pretty impossible but this isn't traditional farming. Sundrop Farms is looking to change the way farmers grow their produce with an agricultural system that relies solely on sunshine and seawater.
Their farm is on 20 hectares of the South Australian desert. There's a giant greenhouse and a massive solar farm. Sundrop is producing about 15 percent of the total Australian tomato crop at the farm, that's about 15,000 tons per year. So, how does it work?
Seawater is pumped to Sundrop from the Spencer Gulf, approximately 5.5 kilometers away. Salt is swapped out of the water by solar-power (generated by 23,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight towards a receiver tower) and replaced with nutrients for the plants, a process that creates enough fresh water to sustain 180,000 tomato plants. Those plants are grown hydroponically, in coconut husks and "carnivorous insects" protects the produce from other bugs, all part of the effort to reduce the use of genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, and fossil fuels. There's also no trace of pesticide use due to the saltwater scrub that's been added to the greenhouse's airflow systems. The greenhouse itself is lined with seawater-soaked cardboard to assist in cooling during the summer while in winter, solar heating keeps the greenhouse warm.
Sundrops revolutionary approach could revolutionize farming in countries where fresh water and energy are limited. They are already expanding beyond Australia with a farm planned for Tennessee, where most likely a crop other than tomatoes will be grown.