Green, Science, Sustainability

New Technology Allows Crops to Grow in a Desert

Sundrop Farms’ new facility in Port Augusta, Australia measures 20 hectares and enables the production of high-quality produce in harsh climates with degraded land.
Sundrop Farms’ new facility in Port Augusta, Australia measures 20 hectares and enables the production of high-quality produce in harsh climates with degraded land. Photo: Sundrop Farms.

A new kind of farming technology is making a tomato farm flourish in one of earth’s most arid places: the South Australian desert, a place with little usable land and no sources of freshwater at all. However, a new, super solar-powered boiler has been installed at a farm belonging to Sundrop Farms, receiving energy from the sun through a whopping 23,000 mirrors. The plant can process 2.8 million liters of seawater every day, using the steam to clean the air, and the water to raise some happy tomatoes.

The farm, made possible by a $100 million donation from Henry Kravis and KKR, is intended to help boost tomato production in the desert area north of Port Augusta in Australia. The funding comes with a new 10-year contract with Coles, a supermarket, which has agreed to buy the tomatoes, ensuring that the investment remains solid and productive.

KKR’s investment joins others from the South Australian government. Because of these investments, Sundrop Farms believes it will be able to expand and create 300 new jobs.

Greenhouses associated with the farm will grow more than 15,000 tons of sustainably-grown tomatoes a year, and the demand for that kind of produce is expected to grow by 15-25 percent over the next year. The amount of produce the desert farm generates would significantly ease the added pressure on the market and, hopefully, keep the costs of tomatoes low for consumers.

When construction is finished on the farm later this year, it will span about 50 acres. It will also boast a fancy refrigeration system that can chill steam from 35 Celsius to 18 Celsius quickly, using an environmentally-friendly form of ammonia that has “zero global warming potential,” according to Cold Logic, the firm that created it.

The new crop system “opens up new ways of producing crops out of very arid lands,” said Eddie Lane, a partner at Cold Logic. “It’s groundbreaking technology, and there’s been a lot of international interest from places like the Middle East.”

The solar farm does represent a lot of possible new opportunities in farming and food production. If land that could not ordinarily produce crops can be made to do so, we could come a long way in the fight against food scarcity, poor nutrition, and starvation around the world.

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