Fresh water will be increasingly difficult to come by in the future. So where will the water come from to grow the crops needed to feed the world’s growing population? Would you believe the ocean?
One believer is Sam Fiorello, COO and senior vice president for administration at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.
“We can’t really make more fresh water on the planet,” Fiorello said. “But we know that there are millions of miles of coastal area that are not (agriculturally) productive. They’re touching water, but it’s salt water, and plants like corn, soybeans and tomatoes don’t live in salt water.”
But turning salt water into brackish or less salty water on a huge scale is achievable, Fiorello said. Then it becomes a matter of altering crops so that they can live in brackish water, which is what the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is striving to accomplish in collaboration with researchers in Israel.
“Israeli universities have field trials with tomatoes that can live in brackish water,” Fiorello said. “Think of what that could mean. You’ve made it possible for tens of millions of acres of farm productivity to come on line, which couldn’t be done before, with some simple solar panels that strip away enough salt from ocean water so that you can use it for irrigation and agricultural production.
“So we haven’t made fresh water, but we’ve tweaked the biology of the plants so they can survive in brackish water.”