Consumer Technology

South Australia’s Tomato Farming Technology Uses Only Seawater and Sunlight

South Australia's Tomato Farming Technology Uses Only Seawater and Sunlight
PHOTOGRAPH: Mansouraboud68 | Photo shows the 20-hectare Expansion Project in Port Augusta, South Australia.

 The idea of a futuristic-looking greenhouse in the vast desert growing delicious, natural tomatoes sounds appealing to many people. In South Australia, a pilot greenhouse that has evolved into a commercial-scale farm facility can do just that.

Produce at Sundrop Farms’ 20-hectare site in arid Port Augusta are grown with just seawater and sunlight. Though the infrastructure comes at a hefty $200 million cost, pricier than a traditional greenhouse, the benefits can be far-reaching.

The long-term cost savings, food and environmental benefits of the greenhouse facility, that can grow 180,000 tomato plants sans fossil fuels (in time), makes Sundrop’s project an agricultural feat. The innovative minds behind the venture are led by an investment banker who now serves as the chief executive officer of Sundrop Farms – Philipp C. Saumweber.

Today, the company is producing around 15 percent of Australia’s tomatoes that consumers may purchase in supermarkets. What is great about the produce is that they were farmed without the use of pesticides.

Seawater & Solar Power

The greenhouse is lined with seawater-soaked cardboard to keep the plants cool enough to stay healthy.  A solar-powered desolation plant eliminates the salt, creating enough fresh water to irrigate the tomato plants inside the greenhouse.

Moreover, the use of solar power, which is close to the cheapest energy source worldwide speaks volumes about the realization of certain countries that a positive step for a collective effort of preserving the environment and the planet. The use of solar power has become very popular in countries ranging from India to the UK.

Lofty Ideals

Saumweber said that reliance on fossil fuels will be eliminated when design improvements are gradually completed.  For now, winter brings solar energy shortages, which necessitates hook-up of the greenhouse to the grid for back-up,

In due time, the company hopes to be able to do its part in helping solve the world’s food problems. The agricultural production system has been met with mixed reactions. Some regard it as clever, considering that the use of renewable energy sources will be the wave of the future.

Others have questioned why an energy-intensive tomato farming has to be done in the barren desert when Australia offers other ideal places for growing produce.  Neil Palmer, from Australia’s government-funded desalination research institute, opined that besides making food without risk, farming with the use of renewable resources “stacks up economically and it’s infinitely scalable – there’s no shortage of sunshine or seawater here. It’s all very impressive.”

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