The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
World's First Farm to Use Solar Power and Seawater Opens in Australia
Sundrop Farms, a tomato production facility that is the first agricultural system of its kind in the world, celebrated its grand opening in Port Augusta, South Australia, Thursday.
Instead of soil, pesticides, fossil fuels and groundwater, Sundrop Farms uses only solar power and desalinated seawater to grow tomatoes across 49 acres. The water is pumped into the facility from the Spencer Gulf about 1.2 miles away where it is desalinated to water the farm's 180,000 tomato plants.
Screenshot from Sundrop Farms Vimeo video.
"The farm's solar power is generated by 23,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight towards a 115-meter (377-foot) high receiver tower. On a sunny day, up to 39 megawatts of energy can be produced—enough to power the desalination plant and supply the greenhouse's electricity needs," NewsScientist explained.
Graphic showing how the tower works to power the desalination plant.Screenshot from Sundrop Farms Vimeo video.
"We knew that considering the increase in population that we had to address the food shortage, the water shortage, the energy shortage," Reinier Wolterbeek, chief technical officer at Sundrop Farms, said.
This process helps work around the area's desert climate that is unsuitable for conventional farming. Seawater-soaked cardboard keeps the plants cool enough to stay healthy during the hot months, and solar heating keeps the greenhouse warm during the winter months. The seawater helps sterilize the air and the plants are grown in coconut husks allowing them to thrive without the use of pesticides.
RenewEconomy reports the farm will produce more than 118 million gallons of freshwater each year, the equivalent of 180 Olympic size swimming pools, and displace the use of more than 2 million liters of diesel a year.
"This state-of-the-art development is a massive boost for Port Augusta and the Upper Spencer Gulf, creating almost 200 jobs and heralding the start of an exciting new industry for the region," South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said. "It also aligns with several of South Australia's key economic priorities, including creating premium food and wine from our clean environment and growth through innovation."
The farm expects to produce 17,000 metric tons—37,000 pounds of tomatoes—every year, about 13 percent of Australia's market share, and will be sold at a fixed price for 10 years exclusively at Coles Supermarkets.
"Because we do everything in a controlled environment, we know what our input costs are, and we're doing everything on a renewable basis, we can provide real consistency of supply and a higher quality product at a better price year 'round," Philipp Saumweber, chairman and CEO of Sundrop Farms, said.
Saumweber explained that with extreme weather events making it difficult to consistently provide consumers with products, Coles would at times find themselves without quality product, or without any product, and the two partnered to find a solution.
One of those solutions was already put to the test last week during a once-in-50-year storm that wreaked havoc in South Australia. Sundrop Farms was able to take the brunt of high winds and continue operations despite a massive blackout that crippled Whyalla steelworks and shut down the mines of mining giants BHP Billiton and OZ Minerals in northern South Australia.
Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson told AFR that while there had been significant financial losses to businesses and households from the blackout in the regional city, Sundrop Farms is "living proof" that its groundbreaking technology could work on a large scale.
Sundrop is planning to launch similar sustainable greenhouses in Portugal and the U.S., and another in Australia.
Watch more on Sundrop Farms here:
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.