Growing higher quality tomatoes with desalinated water is already possible, as demonstrated by the European project Life Deseacrop (Desalinated seawater for alternative and sustainable soilless crop production), promoted by Sacyr Agua.
The empirical part of the project has been carried out in the experimental farm of the University of Almería and Anecoop, with various tests intended to analyze the productivity and yield of tomatoes, the main product of the area, when using desalinated water from the Carboneras plant, as well as different mixtures of this maritime resource combined with well water. A comparison has also been made between the area's conventional cultivation system, in soil, and a hydroponic one with recirculation of the nutrient solution.
“Although desalinated water has been used for irrigation for a long time, its benefits had not yet been scientifically studied and we wanted to do so due to the reluctance of many growers to use it, mainly because of its higher price. Thanks to the Deseacrop project, we have shown that this water is not only better when mixed with groundwater, but it also increases crop yield and quality,” said Elena Campos, head of R&D at Sacyr Agua.
As part of the project, drained irrigation water (approximately 30% of the initial amount used for irrigation) has been treated through reverse osmosis desalination to make it usable for irrigation again. This treatment is carried out in the desalination plant using exclusively photovoltaic solar energy.
"There are areas with great agricultural productions, such as Almería or Murcia, with good climatic conditions, but with practically no quality groundwater, which is also increasingly deeper. Moreover, water transfers are increasingly scarce and subject to climate change, so it is increasingly necessary to use desalinated water in order to protect the crops,” says Campos.
In Spain, more than 20% of the national production of desalinated water is used for agriculture, compared to 3% worldwide. But there is a lack of tests, such as Deseacrop's, to make producers aware of the multiple benefits that its use entails, such as increased production and product quality.
The Deseacrop project, which will come to a close in December, has been financed with Life 2016 European funds and been supported by the Center for Research in Intensive Mediterranean Agrosystems and Agro-food Biotechnology (Ciaimbital) of the University of Almería and the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT), as well as by the Community of Water Users of the Níjar Region, as end users.