A Scottish start-up in Turnberry, Scotland is teaching farmers how to grow crops using water from the sea.
Seawater Solutions is helping farmers on Scotland’s west coast adapt to the reality of less rainfall. This is being done by choosing salt-resistant plants and developing saltmarshes - land which is flooded by tidal waters - for the plants to grow in.
The start-up uses renewable solar irrigation systems in coastal farms with nutrient-rich seawater, acting as a natural fertiliser for saline crops, without the need for chemicals or pesticides. They introduce high-value crops, such as samphire and sea lavender, by replicating the wetland environments where they naturally occur. This creates natural defences along Scotland's coastlines, that tackle erosion, storm surges, marine pollution, and threats from rising sea-levels.
Seawater Solutions founder, Yanik Nyberg, stated: “These plants can create eco-systems and promote wildlife, but they can also feed us in a sustainable way and return health to the soil,”
One of the people the company is working with is Jay Crawford, a potato and carrot farmer. The project is working towards farming an acre of his land which was previously underused due to exposure to sea wind and salt spray. He noted: “We’ve taken a piece of land here that was maybe only going to yield a couple of hundred pounds per year into something that could maybe yield a couple of thousand pounds per year,”
Pipelines running from the sea, bring water in a way that recreates the tide, and the process waters the crops with the saltwater. Examples of the types of plants being grown are bright green samphire stalks and sea blite - a herb-like plant that looks like rosemary. Sea aster is also being grown and is being used increasingly in the cooking sphere due to its’ flavour.
Typically used as gourmet garnishes, the saltwater plants are becoming ever more popular. According to Seawater Solutions, demand for these types of plants is growing by 10% each year. George Chubb of Glasgow greengrocer Roots and Fruits said the plants were so popular because of their “extreme taste” and “eco-credentials”.
Growing populations, intensive farming and climate change are putting pressure on the world’s limited water supplies, researchers say. United Nations data shows two billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – are now using water much faster than natural sources can be replenished. This kind of project where seawater is used for growing plants is a step towards being more sustainable.