Desert net-house slashes water use

Study shows conventional greenhouse consumes 1.6 times more water than new misting technology

Dubai: A new study has shown that an alternative greenhouse technology is far more efficient than traditional methods of growing greenhouse produce.

Traditional watering of crops in a greenhouse consumes 1.6 times more water than a new alternative method — “misting” — to give crops moisture, according to an extensive new study by the Dubai-based International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).

The study forms part of ICBA’s efforts to contribute to future food security of the UAE and support the government’s initiatives in this field.

In an effort to find ways to improve water and energy use efficiency of horticultural production in local conditions, a team of researchers at ICBA has completed a long-term evaluation of growing cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers and other vegetables in a widely used, high-tech greenhouse as well as a traditional net-house designed to cope with UAE conditions.

The researchers compared a model of greenhouse with a fan-pad cooling system and a net-house model equipped with a misting system and a shade net.

They found that greenhouse cooling is the most water-intensive process as it consumed 1.6 times more water than the amount required to irrigate cucumber.

In contrast, the misting system in the net-house required about 20 per cent of the water used to irrigate cucumbers. Data also showed that the greenhouse consumed 62 times more energy than the net-house.

Dr Aziz Hirich, a horticulture scientist at ICBA, commented on the study: “Our research demonstrates that the net-house can be a low-cost alternative to the common greenhouse. More importantly, this technology can help to considerably reduce energy and water consumption for vegetable production, which is a very important factor given the scarce water resources. We are now working with farmers to introduce this technology in farms in the UAE.”

The findings also have implications for both water and food security.

As the UAE is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, it relies on groundwater reserves and energy-intensive desalinated water to meet the domestic demand, including in agriculture. The country is also dependent on food imports like vegetables and fruits.

This means there is great potential to increase horticultural production in the UAE as the food demand is set to grow, while lessening the environmental impact.

As water resources are likely to become scarcer in the future, it is important to implement sustainable solutions for food production. And local growers should adopt technologies that save more water and energy.


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