The UK’s first seawater farm that grows crops without freshwater

17 December 2019 by Grace Coleman
blog author

A tech start-up is artificially introducing seawater to grow plants on coastal farmland to help combat the effects of climate change.

How are some companies using seawater for agriculture?

Award-winning Seawater Solutions grows halophytic (salt-tolerant) plants on farmland, which it has redeveloped to introduce wetland ecosystems.

The aim of the business is to create ecosystems where food can be grown without destroying the land and make agriculture work for the environment as well as for people, while pursuing the sustainability development goals (SDG) from the United Nations. 

The agri-environmental firm believes transforming degraded coastal farmland into saltmarsh ecosystems using seawater can store carbon, create habitats where wildlife can thrive, improve air, soil and water quality, while protecting coastlines from flooding and soil erosion.

Why is salt water farming a viable option?

Only 3 per cent of all water on earth is freshwater and across the globe, 70 per cent of freshwater is used for agriculture which is expected to increase by a further 19 per cent by 2050 due to irrigational needs

Seawater Solutions is currently working with farmers in Scotland, where the firm is based, to grow four saline crops without using any fresh water, with a goal to introduce more than 30 salt-tolerant vegetable species for various products over the next three years.

Can we use sea water for farming certain crops?

Its seawater farm in Ayrshire is currently growing four saltwater crops: samphire, sandwort, chickweed and sea aster.

The sea-vegetable market is increasing, with samphire becoming hailed as a “superfood” based on its impressive nutritional value, which includes Omega 3, high levels of iron, and the highest linoleic acid content of any crop.

The European sea vegetable market is estimated at over $110 million, according to Seawater Solutions, and is expected to grow 8-10 per cent annually.

What kind of products does this seawater farming start up offer?

This sea water farming start up offers three types of products: High-value saline crops produced in partnership with Scottish Farmers for UK markets, comprehensive seawater farming systems, (intended for
licensing to European coastal farmholding), and Integrated Seawater Aquaculture Systems (ISAS), a comprehensive bio-remediation system that treats wastewater in aquaculture and reduces the need for harmful chemicals in fish farming.

The company also plans to process the saltwater crops into products that include oils for cosmetics, biofuels and sea-plant animal fodder which the company says is a sustainable alternative to imported feed.

Yanik Nyberg, founder and director of Seawater Solutions Ltd, said: “The saltmarsh is the most overlooked, underutilised, and undervalued ecosystem. It will become the breadbasket of the future and can tackle climate change like no other.

“Harmonising agriculture with ecosystem restoration is the surest way to tackle the greatest challenge facing our civilisation today.” 

Jay Crawford, Seawater Solutions’ partner in Ayrshire, said: “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.”

In 2020 the team will also launch a demonstration aquaculture farm in Vietnam, using methods Western fisheries could adopt. The farm will not only clean water, but also help owners to diversify and become more financially resilient.