Today, South Australian premier Jay Weatherill cut the ribbon of Sundrop's new sustainable greenhouse in Port Augusta. The growing facility runs on seawater and solar power. Many people thought it couldn't be done, but today's opening has proven the critics wrong.

The official cutting of the ribbon, with Philipp Saumweber, Jay Weatherill and Coles's Chris Nicholas

Sustainable production
How to grow something from nothing? That was the big question for the Sundrop Farm entrepreneurs. They decided to start a tomato farm in Port Augusta, South Australia. Fresh water is scarce and the area is very arid. Since 2010 a team has been working on growing tomatoes in regions like this, and today a 20 hectare greenhouse in this region has been opened.

At the greenhouse, which came into being with support from Coles, KKR, the Government of South Australia and other partners, the growers control the climate and irrigation inside the greenhouses to ensure the fruit and vegetables have exactly the right levels of nutrients, light, water, temperature and carbon dioxide needed to thrive. ABC Landline took a look at all the ins and outs of the sustainable greenhouse:

Coconut husks
Plants are grown hydroponically. Instead of soil, the crops grow on nutrient-rich coconut husks. "The big advantage of farming this way is the control it gives us over plant nutrition levels", the growers explain. Sundrop doesn't use chemical fertilizers or chemical crop protection either, and perhaps most interestingly, the facility runs on solar energy and salt water.

Solar and salt
The 20-hectare futuristic-looking facility includes a field of more than 23,000 mirrors that capture the sunlight and direct it to a central receiver at the top of a 127-metre "power" tower. The company Sundrop Farms spent several years developing the idea at a pilot plant on the outskirts of Port Augusta, before building this 100 times larger, commercial facility. At its peak it produces 39 megawatts of thermal energy, which is used for electricity, heating and making water. All the water used for irrigating the crops is piped from the Spencer Gulf and converted into fresh water using a thermal desalination unit.

CEO Philipp Saumweber thanking all the partners who helped contribute to the success of the sustainable farm

The 20 hectare project of Sundrop is the first of its kind globally, employing approximately 175 people and producing more than 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes annually.

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