Farmers Beat the Heat with Sunscreens

January 29th, 2013 BY Saikat | 1 Comment

Global warming is spawning some bizarre though innovative solutions. In the latest, farmers in Chile and Australia are trying out an agricultural variant of the sunscreen. And the idea has got imported to America too. With global warming has come climate change and rising temperatures have impacted agricultural practices world over. Heat stress affects plants just the same way it affects us. We can do something about it, the plants can’t. Usually they wilt and die.

Botanically speaking though, plants perspire; a process called as transpiration. It is a fail safe mechanism to lower their ambient temperature but this process leads to water loss. Thus, to balance their water needs plants imbibe more water from the soil.

As drought takes its toll around the world and global hunger rears its head, water availability is coming at a premium. Plus if one considers the rising cost of production, any loss in yields through decay affects the already stretched margins of crop growers. And with global warming this has become a universal truth. Now, scientists are stepping in to look at ways to conserve water by helping plants use less.

The solution seems to lie in a product made of multicrystaline calcium carbonate crystals that have been developed to deflect ultraviolet and infrared light from the plants and trees on which it is sprayed. The product keeps out the harmful wavelengths, but lets in the good photosynthesis rays that aid ripening. The sunscreen has been used in Australia and Chile where it had a positive effect in increasing yields. In its second year of use in America, the spray has helped to reduce heat stress related problems and now scientists hope that it will also affect the water holding efficiency of the crops.

The compound called Purshade with a SPF of 45 is getting prospective attention from farmers who are keen to beat nature at its own game. Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards has been growing 100 acres of premium wine grapes since the 1980s says that when the grapes are harvested, the calcium carbonate crystals drop to the bottom of the fermentation tanks with the rest of the sediment that comes in on grapes, so taste isn’t affected. The age old practice has been to use vine canopies to shade the growing creepers, but unequal growth of the canopies leaves many exposed to the rigors of the heat. As he says after using Purshade,

” When my vines don’t put up enough canopy, I like to give them a little help.”

Purfresh, the company behind the development of Purshade is cutting a wide swathe in experimenting with its product. Through its field trials it hopes to demonstrate the efficacy of its product. Their principal hope is that they can use technology to address the problems of food and water availability. Their ‘About’ statement says – Purfresh is focused on providing clean, science-based solutions that purify, protect, and preserve the world’s food and water supply.

A concern which the entire world shares.

Source: MSNBC

Image Source: Flickr

  1. mollyL

    A very worthwhile study of sun screen used horticulturally. I am wondering if it would have any application on humans.

  2. What do you have to say?