Dutch Experiment Grows Vegetables in Sea Water

24 November, 2014

Climate change has caused a rise in sea levels. This has increased the amount of salt in fresh water used on coastal farms. As a result farmers are increasingly unable to use fields close to the sea.

Scientists call this process "salinization." The term comes from the word "saline" -- which means a mixture of salt and water. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says salinization is reducing the world's irrigated lands by 1 to 2 percent every year. Irrigation is the process of supplying land with fresh water from other areas.

But a farmer in the Netherlands is now using a mixture of sea and fresh water to grow healthy and tasty vegetables. Marc Van Rijsselberghe started with an experiment. He put several kinds of plants in saline.

"We put in a lot of plants in the fields and then we put in, put them in fresh water and in sea water and all the varieties between it, and then we see which variety is surviving and which variety is dying."

Mr. Van Rijsselberghe worked on the project with scientists from the Free University of Amsterdam. He divided a farm into eight irrigated areas. Separate pipes pumped fresh and sea water, and a computer program created water with eight levels 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."

Computerized measuring devices called "sensors" controlled the water levels and the levels of salinity. Mr. Van Rijsselberghe says he was able to harvest vegetables from most of the eight test areas. He says the vegetables were smaller than those grown in fresh water. But he says they also have more sugar and salt, so they taste better.

"It's a miracle. I mean, it shouldn't be a carrot, it should be dying if we look at the datas that are available in the world at the moment."

The farmer grew carrots, cabbage, onions and beetroot. But he found that potatoes grew better than the other vegetables in the combination of sea and fresh water. Mr. Van Rijsselberghe says four kinds of these potatoes were recently sent to Pakistan, where thousands of hectares of land have been damaged by salinization. Farmers in Pakistan will test the Dutch potatoes to see if they can be grown in those fields.

I'm Caty Weaver.

VOA correspondent George Putic reported this story from Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English and produced the report. Caty Weaver read and edited the report.


Words in This Story

coastal – adj. referring to the land along or near a sea or ocean

mixture – n. something made by combining two or more ingredients

variety – n. a number or collection of different things or people

pipe – n. a long, hollow tube for carrying water, steam or gas

taste – n. the sweet, sour, bitter, or salty quality of a thing that you can sense when it is in your mouth; the flavor that you can taste when you eat or drink something

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