inewtrition – Food Product Development Company

Sea to spoon: future of farming might be underwater

by Dr. Raphaëlle O'Connor

by Dr. Raphaëlle O'Connor

Raphaelle has over 25 years’ experience in the ideation,
development, and commercialisation of food chemistry,
food science, food technology, and nutrition.

underwater farming

The pressures being placed on traditional agricultural methods have forced exploration into new and innovative farming methods. One such method is underwater farming, which is gaining attention as a sustainable alternative to traditional land-based farming. Underwater farming involves growing crops and herbs in pods anchored to the seabed using hydroponic technology.

Underwater farming has several environmental benefits. First, it conserves water use by using seawater that evaporates and condenses back down to provide fresh water to the plants. This means that the plants require little to no additional water, reducing pressure on freshwater resources. Additionally, the lack of insects means that no pesticides are necessary, reducing negative impacts on the environment and producing healthier outputs for consumers.

Underwater Farming
Image source: Nemo’s Garden powered by OCEANREEF

Nemo’s Garden, a research project from the Ocean Reef Group, is one of the pioneers of underwater farming. Located off the coast of Noli in Italy, Nemo’s Garden is home to six plastic pods that grow a variety of herbs and crops such as basil, lettuce, and strawberries. The project has so far shown that underwater farming could be a viable alternative to traditional farming, with the potential to reduce the strain on current agricultural practices.
In Norway, similar experiments are being conducted by Columbi Farms, in partnership with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomic Research (NIBIO), Norwegian consulting firm Morefish, and feed manufacturer Biomar. Columbi Farms’ aim is to, “provide the world with a circular and efficient food production platform”, and is experimenting with growing lettuce in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) salmon farms. The method allows nutrients and water from the RAS fish production to be reused for plant growth. The team’s study showed that for every kilogram of feed, they could produce one kilogram of salmon and nine kilograms of lettuce. Columbi Farms is working to establish production facilities throughout Europe and aims to produce about 15,000 tons of salmon and 4,000 tons of plants by 2026.

underwater farmer in farming pod
Image source: Nemo’s Garden powered by OCEANREEF

However, while underwater farming has several benefits, it is not without its challenges. One of the main challenges is scalability. While projects like Nemo’s Garden have shown that underwater farming can be successful on a small scale, it remains to be seen if it can support the food demands of a growing global population. Additionally, underwater farming requires trained scuba divers to tend to the pods, adding a layer of safety concern and expense.

As with any new farming method, there are concerns about potentially negative impacts on the environment. While underwater farming answers some of the problems posed by traditional farming, it is still relatively new and its full environmental impact is not yet known. For example, there are concerns about its effects on marine ecosystems, as well as the potential for underwater farming to cause ocean acidification. Despite these challenges, the growing interest in sourcing local produce from the sea and the potential for underwater farming are continuing to align, making it an exciting and promising alternative. As we look to meet the increasing global demand for food, it is more important than ever to consider the environmental impacts of new farming methods and work towards creating sustainable and environmentally-friendly solutions.

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