New soil-free farms reduce land and water pressure

  • Soil free farmThe Waseda University in Japan has developed an alternative technology which allows farmers to grow crops without soil. Not only does this offer the potential to reduce land use pressure (by negating the need for nutrient-rich soil), it also offers other environmental benefits.
  • The technique uses a plastic “hydrogel” membrane resembling Saran Wrap. The transparent membrane uses one-tenth of the water and a fraction of the fertiliser to grow the same produce as conventional agriculture.
  • The plants are generally free of pathogens, pesticides, and pollutants such as oil or heavy metals because the membrane is selective – water drawn up by the plant’s roots pass through it, but other compounds are left behind.
  • Dubai-based Agricel show tomatoes and other plants thriving on a film-like material directly atop the desert sand instead of soil and allows farmers to use 90 percent less water.
  • According to the research scientist Yuichi Mori “any surface will work anywhere from concrete floors to contaminated ground left behind by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. All that’s needed to start a film farm is space, sun, and nutrient-rich water”.
  • The technology is in its early stages of commercialisation. Thus, there is still much uncertainty regarding the positive and negative impacts created by film farming, as well as how to optimize its use (with regards where and when to use film farms). Nonetheless, the reports suggest it is able to increase the potential for food production from land with little agricultural value.

Depending on its success, the technology could alleviate land, water, and fertiliser-related pressures in the UK and abroad, and increase the amount of space viable for crop growth. There may be potential for the UK to explore new crop markets and relocate cropping to traditional livestock areas in the northwest. Therefore, major effects would be land-use based.

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About Hayley Shaw

Knowledge Exchange Manager at Cranfield University's Centre for Environmental Risks and Futures (CERF). Sharing the latest news from Cranfield, and insights from across the industry. All things risk, environment, and the future.
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