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Dutch Experiment Shows Farming With Salty Water Possible

  • George Putic

One of the many adverse effects of global climate change is the rise of sea levels, which scientists say can increase the salinity level of fresh water reserves. As saline water cannot be used for irrigation, farm fields close to the seashore are lost to agriculture. But a farm in Netherlands has managed to grow healthy and tasty vegetables in soil irrigated with salt water.

Salinization is reducing the world’s irrigated lands by 1 to 2 percent annually, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

But that doesn't faze Dutch farmer Marc Van Rijsselberghe, who has used saline water to kill some plants in order to identify which ones are able to thrive.

“We put a lot of plants in the field and then we put them in fresh water and in sea water and all varieties between it, and then we see which variety is surviving and which variety is dying,” he said.

Working with scientists from the Free University of Amsterdam, Van Rijsselberghe and his team divided a farm into eight plots covered with a network of irrigation pipes.

Separate pipes bring fresh water and sea water to a distribution center where a computer-controlled system mixes irrigation water with eight different degrees of salinity.

“And then computer says 'go' and then it goes to the fields and dripping irrigation starts to work and we are going to kill plants. That's it,” said Van Rijsselberghe.

Numerous sensors continuously control soil salinity and moisture. Van Rijsselberghe said they were able to harvest vegetables from most of the test plots. Although they were smaller than normal, he said they contain more sugar and salt, so they taste better.

“It's a miracle. It shouldn't be a carrot, it should be dying if we look at the data that are available in the world at the moment,” he said.

The farm managed to grow carrots, cabbage, onions and beetroot, but potatoes proved to be the most tolerant to saline water. Van Rijsselberghe said four varieties of salt-tolerant potatoes recently were shipped to Pakistan where thousands of hectares of land damaged by salinization are being prepared for testing the Dutch potatoes.

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