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Growing Crops In Seawater Could Be The Answer To Feeding Billions

Author: Giulia Bottaro

Bottaro, Giulia. “Growing Vegetables in Seawater Could Be the Answer to Feeding Billions.” Living, 14 Oct. 2020, www.euronews.com/living/2020/10/14/growing-vegetables-in-seawater-could-be-the-answer-to-feeding-billions.

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Growing vegetables in seawater could be the answer to feeding billions

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Updated: 14/10/2020

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Growing vegetables in seawater could be the answer to feeding billions

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Growing vegetables in sea water could help with fresh water shortages. - Copyright Salt Farm Foundation

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By Giulia Bottaro

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Food production needs to increase by 70 per cent in the next 30 years to feed a world population expected to reach 9 billion people.

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Sam Fedor (Feb 02 2021 11:09AM) : The Writer Introduces a Very Serious Problem more

By illustrating the need for food and the water to grow it, the author communicates the urgent need for the redistribution of freshwater and new solutions for more environmentally friendly farming practices. After all, everyone needs to eat and drink, and in many parts of the world, there is not enough water to do either reliably.

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2021 Parker Catten (Feb 09 2021 12:29AM) : This is an incredibly concrete way of giving the reader an understanding of how severe this problem is, right out of gate.
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However, traditional agriculture is facing increasing scarcity of water due to climate change. Freshwater - what we all drink, wash and cook with - accounts for only 2 per cent of all water on Earth, and we don’t even have access to most of it because it is locked away in glaciers.

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In many areas, such as the Sub-Saharan region and the Sub-Indian continent, water is seriously scarce or heavily contaminated.

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Even regions famous for their wet weather, such as the UK, are facing droughts due to low rainfall and increased water usage. In May, the UK saw only half of the average rainfall it would usually expect. According to the UK Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, last spring was the fourth driest ever recorded and the driest spring on record in many regions of England and Wales.

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That’s why a farm on Scotland's West Coast is using the Atlantic Ocean to grow vegetables instead. Led by Glasgow-based startup Seawater Solutions they are using saltwater instead of fresh to grow food.

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Growing sea vegetables in saltwater

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“We take this land, whether it’s degraded farmland or flooding-affected lands, and we then build an artificial saltmarsh ecosystem where we can extract food at the same time,” Yanik Nyberg, founder of Seawater Solutions, tells Euronews Living.

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“We’ll pump seawater over this area, sometimes we flood it, and then we’ll begin to grow saline plants.”

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These crops, called halophytes, thrive in waters with a high percentage of salt such as semi-deserts and seashores. Halophytes can be eaten or used as raw material for cosmetics, biofuels and sea-plant animal fodder. The saltmarshes where they grow protect the coast from flooding and erosion and absorb 30 times more carbon than rainforests do.

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Sam Fedor (Feb 02 2021 11:12AM) : A Solution! more

The author, after demonstrating the need for solutions to traditional farming practices, provides a solution- and one that not only uses abundant resources to produce food, but also captures significant amounts of carbon. The plants grown are both profitable and green (environmentally friendly,) a sometimes difficult to find combination. Furthermore, traditional crops can be grown this way too, meaning our palates won’t have to make an environmentally friendly change as well.

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Henry Poppe (Feb 05 2021 11:18AM) : This reminds me so much about a book I read about all the different farming methods. It talked about land methods and ocean ones like this with the plants being better for the environment and easier to man produce due to accessible resources.
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2021 Parker Catten (Feb 09 2021 12:31AM) : This seems like an incredibly practical solution, and it also helps with other problems like deforestation and overcrowding.
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As an added benefit, Seawater Solutions reckons farmers who adopt their artificial ecosystems could sell carbon credits for over €2,600 per year for each hectare.

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2021 Parker Catten (Feb 09 2021 12:31AM) : This is a very enticing way of promoting their methods.
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The Dowhill Farm, located in Ayrshire, focuses on species such as samphire and sea aster for food consumption. While these unusual vegetables remain a niche market, they aren’t just selling them to fishmongers or upscale restaurants anymore.

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UK supermarket Tesco, which sells samphire during summer months, saw demand skyrocket by 80% in 2016 after the plant was featured on several popular TV cookery shows.

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According to Nyberg, this means halophytes can be profitable in Britain, with Dowhill Farm selling produce for €22-32 per kilo with a yield of 20 tonnes per hectare - ten times as much as they would grow in an open field. Its artificial saltmarshes are powered by off-grid, renewable systems which make it economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

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Solving the problem of soil salinisation

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While the project in Scotland is labour-intensive and highly seasonal, in the Netherlands the Salt Farm Foundation has proven that ‘conventional’ crops such as potatoes and cabbages can tolerate higher amounts of salt than normal. Its Texel Farm, on the North Sea, grows crops using medium brackish water, which is a mixture of sea and freshwater.

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The foundation is looking for a solution to the problem of soil salinisation, a worldwide phenomenon caused by climate change. This happens when seawater floods the land or seeps through the soil from below, so farmers end up with barren lands where they are unable to grow crops as they used to.

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With its partners at the SalFar project, the Salt Farm Foundation has set up 16 fields in seven countries on the North Sea to test the salt tolerance of various crops. The researchers found that certain varieties of potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, beetroots and strawberries have high salt tolerance. Brackish water was also found to be suitable for irrigating oats, barley, onions and sugar beet.

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Sam Fedor (Feb 02 2021 11:17AM) : Credibility more

This is a fairly new and experimental phenomenon, but the experts in the field (no pun intended) know what they’re doing. The Salt Farm Foundation is composed of agriculture experts, climate scientists, and is partnered with the SalFar project to best implement using brackish water for farming.

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Feeling the effects of climate change

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Prasath Waverijn-Ravikumar, project coordinator at the foundation, tells Euronews Living, however, that convincing professionals they can use brackish water for irrigation is proving a challenge.

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“A lot of farmers and even scientists are afraid of introducing any kind of saline medium in agriculture,” he says. Many professionals are reluctant for fear of ruining the soil, although the application is tailored to each individual ecosystem.

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Seawater Solutions has encountered the same challenges. Despite the success at Dowhill Farm, it has been difficult to involve neighbouring farmers and the local communities - as well as attracting and training newcomers.

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“Even though we know it could make the land much more profitable, people see it as a risk as well, you have to break through that mindset,” Nyberg adds.

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Sam Fedor (Feb 02 2021 11:14AM) : Detractors and Risks more

While highly profitable and environmentally friendly, there are many people who see an inherent risk in soil salinization. They think it’s bad for the earth and that it’s irreversible. The leaders in this field, however, are ready to refute these worries by reassuring potential newcomers of just how profitable it can be.

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2021 Parker Catten (Feb 09 2021 12:32AM) : We can see this address the skeptical opinions, and this framework of trying to "break the mindset" is reflected in everything they've said
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Scottish farmers, in fact, have not been as affected by climate change as their peers in other areas of the world, so they may not yet see it as a major threat to their livelihood. Similarly, the Salt Farm Foundation noted that there is low market penetration for its salt-tolerant ‘conventional’ crops because western Europe still enjoys somewhat abundant rains.

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“But it has been projected that years like 2018 when there was extreme drought could become more frequent in the coming decades due to the climate change,” Waverijn-Ravikumar explains.

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As climate change impacts Europe further, more decisions will need to be made to ensure the best future for the agricultural sector. While seawater irrigation may not be the only answer, the trendy halophytes grown by Seawater Solutions and the sturdy salt-tolerant crops studied by the Salt Farm Foundation have shown that thinking about water in a different way could provide the solution.

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DMU Timestamp: November 12, 2020 20:50

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