According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 20 percent of the world’s irrigated agricultural lands are considered “salt-affected” as salt from groundwater accumulates in soil over time. Given rising sea levels and increasing demands on agriculture, these salinized soils are expected to increase in the coming years, so the race is on to find salt-adapted crops.
One such plant, Salicornia bigelovii or “dwarf glasswort” is garnering more and more attention for its potential to convert coastal and degraded agriculture areas into productive, sustainable crop land. Able to grow in hot temperatures and poor soil, dwarf glasswort contains high levels of both unsaturated oil and protein. In its 200-day growing cycle, a hectare of dwarf glasswort can produce up to 16 metric tons of biomass compared to a hectare of sunflower, which takes a full year to produce a maximum of 3 metric tons. With the 16 metric tons of biomass, Phoenix-based Global Seawater Inc. reports it can produce up to 250 gallons of biodiesel per hectare of dwarf glasswort.
Because seawater contains many beneficial nutrients, planting salt-adapted crops like dwarf glasswort could mean lower bills for coastal farmers as even a low ratio of seawater to freshwater could boost crop size without additional fertilizer. It has even been suggested that effluent from fish or shrimp farms could water dwarf glasswort.