Saltwater Crops Could Ease Land Demand

Hardy, saltwater-loving plants could produce biofuels from otherwise unusable land
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2008 6:04 AM CST
A dead talpia fish on land that once was part of the Salton Sea near Calipatria, Calif. Saline runoff from farms is causing vast ecological problems in the area.   (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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(Newser) – A worldwide shortage of prime farmland has scientists taking a closer look at plants that thrive on briny water, Wired reports. Plants that can grow in earth too salty for other crops have huge potential for use as biofuel as well as food: One variety produces 1.7 times more vegetable oil per acre than sunflowers, according to a study in the journal Science.

Farming these saltwater crops would give the world an estimated extra half a million square miles of growing space, scientists say, and the land could be irrigated with the saline farm runoff that currently causes ecological problems. Using the crops for ethanol isn't yet financially feasible, but the prospect could defuse the current controversy over using scarce land for biofuels in an increasingly hungry world.