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Oceanic Agriculture [For Small Remote Island States]

Big farmland platforms in the Oceans [For Small Island States]
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(+8, -1)
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*modern agriculture encounters lots of problems:

-land is becoming expensive, in many countries (in Europe, Japan) there's a moratorium on using new land for agriculture

-cutting down forests for more land evokes green protest

-many places are suffering from encroaching desertification

-agriculture uses approximately 70% of all fresh water, putting a strain on human consumption; water is becoming the biggest cost for agriculture in the near future; in some areas, this is already bringing conflict (e.g. in Kenya, where lakes are being emptied by horticulturalists, to the disdain of others who depend on the same water for fishing etc...).

-climate change makes some regions go dry, leaving the farmers destitute, causing migration to already overcrowded places

-agricultural land is often divided up into small scattered plots, making exploitation expensive

-plant pests and migratory plagues (e.g. locusts) often destroy crops or require serious spraying of insecticides

*My idea:

(Please take a look on the map in the first link.)

-there are vast stretches of oceans where you have plenty of rainfall, calm seas and plenty of sunshine

-build huge inflatable platforms on which you grow "low growing" plants (best suited for horticultural products, or lowgrowing crops which are being harvested manually)

-place them in those ocean regions


-vast, uniform stretches of artificial land

-mobility, you're no longer dependent on hoping that rain will fall, or on expensive water-infrastructure

-plenty of fresh water and sun available

-no pests (if you do happen to have a pest, you can destroy it using traditional pesticides, but after that first initial pest, you will no longer have to worry about it recurring, since your land is located offshore - out of the reach of new invasions)


-of course, some problems arise, like the possibility of storms (although these ocean bands in the socalled "intertropical convergence zone" are mostly storm free); in the event of a storm, you can tow the platform away

-too much rain (but I'm more thinking of building floating greenhouses) which you can capture and store in floating bags (rainwater floats on salt water because it is less heavy)

-it may disturb shipping

-the harvest may become labor intensive once again, since you won't be able to use heavy machinery

-you may want to tow your platforms to follow the optimum rainfall, which brings in costs like fuel, etc...

All in all, it's worth looking into.

(the platforms themselves do not cost much, and would consist of a polymer material with a long life like hypalon or geoplastics, which withstand salt water, UV degradation and are impermeable and very strong. The design would be inflatable ribs to keep the platform afloat, and stretches of "land" in between).

***UPDATE: two more advantages:

1. you can locate these platforms oustide of "territorial waters" and "exclusive economic zones", which may be good to avoid land or other taxes, etc...

2. or you may put them in the economic zones of offshore tax paradize islands. Many of these micro-states are located in the rain-zone, so a coral island may actually become an agricultural exporter.

***ADDED idea: -[see scad mientist for suggestions on the problem of harvesting technology] // an alternative may be to plant the plants, and tow them back to land, preferrably to a country with cheap labor where the manual labor can be performed economically. [see what worldengineer says]

***BIG BIOPROBLEM: suddenly I realize that it may be impossible for land plants to grow in an environment which permanently moves on waves. They may not be adapted to this (their roots may not take hold, etc...). I need expert advice here.

***NUANCE: this may indeed only be economically interesting in remote Pacific (and other) Island States which consist of coral, rock and small beach strips, but which still have (tourist) populations who have to be fed.

django, Aug 18 2004

Benchmark six year rainfall climatology http://trmm.gsfc.na...year_TRMM_climo.gif
70% of all precipitation falls into the oceans, out of the reach of man. [django, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Seaweed Power http://www.halfbake...dea/Seaweed_20Power
[Worldgineer, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Farmland prices hit record high http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3939143.stm
£8,630 per hectare in the UK. It must be possible to create a much cheaper platform; of course, the operational costs would be more expensive. [django, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Set-Aside http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/agsup.htm
Imagine getting paid for doing nothing. The farmers must think they are in charge of the country. Wait a minute, ... isn't that what they think already? [suctionpad, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

The 'Historic' Breakthrough http://www.wto.org/
Bye bye subsidies [django, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

(??) Floating islands on the halfbakery http://www.halfbake...ea/Isle_20of_20Boat
good idea and lots of discussion but not new [dentworth, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Crop statistics http://faostat.fao....?subset=agriculture
Very cool breakdown of crop statistics. [scubadooper, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

China won't be able to feed its people http://news.bbc.co..../nature/2943946.stm
Because it simply does not have enough rain and freshwater for its agriculture, and desalination is too expensive. [django, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

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       I imagine there would also be problems with replicating an entire land-evolved ecosystem on a floating, semi-isolated platform. Worth a try though? It might be the only place left to grow truly organic crops once everywhere else gives in and allows contamination from gm crops.
dobtabulous, Aug 18 2004

       true, I guess if they can grow plants in space, it must be possible to do the same on an ocean platform.   

       And another detail: there will not be too much pollution from nearby cities or industrial plants.
django, Aug 18 2004

       There'd be a lot of fish living under those platforms....you'll find me and my speargun there.
normzone, Aug 18 2004

       I like the idea, though I'm not sure that the ecenomics of it will work out especially for low profit crops like rice. Though it's a good argument against anyone spouting about unsustainable population levels.   

       You could make the platform from my 'Bottled Berg' idea
scubadooper, Aug 18 2004

       I think this and my Seaweed Power idea (link) might get along nicely. Instead of having fixed platforms, use solar powered automated tug boats. Then they can float the things back to a factory for harvest and replanting.
Worldgineer, Aug 18 2004

       Why can't you use heavy machinery? I assume you're thinking you can't because you are making the platforms cheap and flexible, but that doesn't necessarily exclude using automated equipment. Sure you can't just go buy a standard tractor, but a tractor is designed to handle varrying terrain and maneuver around random obstacles found in normal fields. For this application, you have very uniform "fields" that can have equipment designed to fit. One possiblity: have the harvester designed to span the distance between two parallel inflatable ribs and support the weight by having lots of small wheels spread out in front and behind the harvester. To move to the next row, drive the harvester off the end onto a barge. Swing the barge around to the next row and drive off. I guess you probably want to unload all the collected food while you're on the barge.   

       One big challenge that you didn't mention is dealling with salt. The vessles may be impermeable to salt, but, there is salt spray carried on the wind. Since your vessel is water tight and there is no runoff, the salt will collect. One possibility might be to have a layer under the soil where excess water collects and can be pumped out into the ocean. This might allow salt levels to reach a reasonable equilibrium. You might still be limited in the type of plants you can grow though, and it will add a lot of cost to the system. If the platforms are designed to hold the soil above the water level, then drainage could be accomplished without pumping, but the platforms could be more expensive.   

       I guess if your platforms are large enough, you may only have salt problems near the edges. But I think good drainage is still generally beneficial.   

       You should also probably make these modular so when one section springs a leak, you only loose a small area, preferably with enough warning so you can save the soil before it gets dunked in the salt water...   

       Okay, enough discussion. I'll give this a +
scad mientist, Aug 18 2004

       scad mientist, great suggestions. I was more thinking of greenhouses, so salt does not collect on the soil.   

       The greenhouses would capture the huge quantities of rain, as if they were rain collectors.   

       This water would then be fed to the plants by sprayers or something like that.
django, Aug 18 2004

       meanwhile: waiting for farmerjohn.
django, Aug 18 2004

       You still need a crop that has enough profit associated with it.   

       Making the pontoons a standard size for processing offshore should be OK, however, you're going to miss out on subsidies etc.
scubadooper, Aug 18 2004

       scubadooper, true. But I heard that the new WTO agreement provides that Europe and the US de-subsidize many of their agriculture products.
django, Aug 18 2004

       Until governments stop paying farmers to NOT grow crops (as a means of price protection), I don't have much patience for ideas like this.   

       We don't have a shortage of farmland for food in the US. When and if we do, I suggest that we stop allowing tobacco to be grown on land that could otherwise be used for crops.   

       Sorry... seafood for this one.
zigness, Aug 18 2004

       perhaps not in the US, but in many other countries, there's a shortage of high quality agricultural land.
django, Aug 18 2004

       I was waiting for you to chime in on that one.
Worldgineer, Aug 18 2004

       OK... consider it changed to "food crop".
zigness, Aug 18 2004

       The EU pays farmers to not grow stuff, it's called "Set-Aside", and is to avoid the wine lakes, butter mountains etc. that subsidies promoted in the 1980's. [linkie]
suctionpad, Aug 18 2004

       as said earlier, agricultural subsidies in the US and the EU will progressively be banned. It may take a while though. (link)
django, Aug 18 2004

       I don't think you need to worry about waves too much, especially if you're going to design this like a greenhouse. If a plant can handle wind it can handle waves.
Worldgineer, Aug 18 2004

       //many places are suffering from encroaching desertification//   

       Where does your island farm get the dirt from?
destructionism, Aug 18 2004

       I was going to suggest that the US bury San Antonio with all the dirt in Arkansas -- but, hey, give it to [django] for the watery farm, tun, boer, hofe, or whatever it's called.
dpsyplc, Aug 18 2004

       Strictly speaking, set-aside is not an agricultural subsidy. Rather it is payment for protecting the environment (at least that's how it is sold). Oh, and has anyone told the French that subsidies are going to be phased out? Believe it when you see it.
suctionpad, Aug 18 2004

       These things will come in handy after the icecaps melt.
bungston, Aug 18 2004

       //Bye bye subsidies // [django], Says who? I checked your link... what are you talking about?
zigness, Aug 19 2004

       [Zanzibar] I like it, hydroponically grown corps on a floating fresh water resevoir with a greenhouse to keep the worst of the weather (and salt) off, should be no need to build a specific structure for the crop.   

       Does anyone know what the value is per acre of various crops (been looking still haven't found anything)
scubadooper, Aug 19 2004

       scuba, you may want to check the FAO website (http://www.fao.org) and look under commodities, or trade.
django, Aug 19 2004

       zigness, the new "historic" WTO agreement provides that both the US and the EU desubsidize huge chunks of their agriculture.
django, Aug 19 2004

       I love the idea of cultivating sunflowers in the ocean. Big bright yellow blooms on a blue sea with a tropical purple sunset sky. :-)   

       People bring tropical fish into their homes, we bring their home flowers to the seas.
django, Aug 19 2004

       If you search floating island there are a few similar ideas on the HB. still I am no spoilsport +
dentworth, Aug 19 2004

       For growing plants, you need these three things: sunlight, water and nutrients. Your plan sounds nice, but I see no mention of nutrients in it. what will you be feeding your plants.   

       Personally I would use the rafts as solar sills to distill freshwater from the sea. With small pumps driven by solar cells, the water is pumped from the sills to a central plastic iceberg. The freshwater can be towed to nearby population centers to be used as drinking water. The sewage water of these cities is used (after treatment) to grow crops with, so they would be eating their own shit.
nietsch, Aug 19 2004

       [thanks dentworth, I'm checking it out]
django, Aug 19 2004

       [django] you're a genius, found what I was looking for almost straight away! See link   

       [nietsch] seagull shit has loads of nutrients in it.   

       Obviously some high value crop would be best suited, maybe Asparagus? (can you tell I didn't get far down the list)
scubadooper, Aug 20 2004

       I just read that in China it takes 1 000 000 (one million) litres (approximately one acre foot) of water, to create one tonne of weat.   

       Projections are dramatic: China will never be able to feed its population, simply because of a lack of rain and fresh water.   

       China may have no other choice than to contemplate building offshore ocean farms in tropical rain areas.   

       (compared with desalination, this may be the most economical way of producing enough food).   

       (see link).
django, Aug 20 2004

       French Polynesia, La Nouvelle Calédonie and Singapore both have to import massive amounts of food, since they don't have enough arable land (in the case of Caledonia only 0.38% of the 18000km², with a stunningly low 0.33% permanent crops and a population of 250 000 -that's 0.08896 acres per capita; barely enough to plant two potatoes on). They do have enough fresh water potential though.
django, Aug 20 2004

       I like the idea of vast areas of interlocking floating platforms forming an alternate mini-continent. Like an inverse Netherlands, but without the dykes. Could only be made better by including zeppelins somehow. Anyway [+]
zen_tom, Oct 14 2004

       Why not farm edible sea-plants and lifeforms in floating net enclosures?
submitinkmonkey, Mar 10 2005

       All this time and not a single mention of ninjas, piezo, or pirates.   


       Anyway, I do have one small complaint, and that's the amount of light this would block. It might not seem like much, but it would still cause an plant death zone BENEATH this farmland. Perhaps an addition of, at least, a small number of white lights beneath the food barge, or whatever this ends up being, and a small amount of solar collectors to power them?   

       Other than that, this is a pretty good idea. I might just build some, if someone wants to loan me a few hundred million bucks.
shapu, Mar 10 2005

       I think this is a grand idea - croissant from me.   

       One suggestion: given the huge amount of plastic waste we produce, why not use this? Instead of building a floating platform, just build a floating ring- shaped net (I mean a ring of floats with a curtain-net suspended from them), and dump all non-degradable, lighter- than-water waste into it. Once you have a few tens of metres thickness of floating, corralled plastic waste, *then* you dump tospsoil on it and you have an almost unsinkable island. I'm assuming the whole thing would be pretty vast (kilometres on a side), and would be pretty much a floating island.
Basepair, Mar 10 2005

       Baked. Combine this with the ideas for clearing up the oceans of plastic, and... bingo, you have a nomadic ocean going population that is exponentially growing, can sustain itself, and clears the ocean of the rest of humanities mess in the proccess.
Selky, Aug 18 2009

       A few anno's have referred to the requirement for a sufficiently high profit crop.   

       If floating agriculture becomes a necessity, the laws of supply and demand will dictate what is a high profit crop.   

       The same laws of supply and demand will result in floating platforms being used as a basis for new cities. This will continue until we screw up the ecosystem to the extent that we can no longer bodge our way through and we will die out.   

       Anyone who believes exponential growth is sustainable, whether in population or economics, lacks some fundamental understanding.   

       Seafood from me.
Twizz, Aug 19 2009

       If it's combined with my Nomad idea, then they'd act to cl;ean up pollution instead of increasing it.
Selky, Aug 19 2009

       Except of course that a garden on a boat or raft and a large mid-ocean platform are quite different.
Loris, Aug 21 2009

       Okay, I have no clue if this bit is feasible, IANA Botanist or Chemist but: Would it be possible either to raise the nutrient level (or find some salt that the plants won't uptake) in a hydroponic solution, such that osmotic pressure moves water from the ocean to the hydroponic fluid?

Since, after all, you are not looking for pure water output you might be able to eliminate the need for rainwater storage.
MechE, Aug 21 2009


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