SAN QUINTIN, Mexico – Weather conditions in San Quintin, a region in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California, are good for growing crops year-round, but the lack of water in the area is forcing farmers to turn to innovative and environmentally friendly technologies, such as desalination, to deal with the problem.
The drought that affected San Quintin from 1985 to 2015 caused the amount of land under cultivation to fall from 28,000 hectares (69,135 acres) to 7,889 hectares (19,479 acres), a reduction of 72 percent.
A company called Grupo BerryMex recently announced that it was going to start operating the first agricultural desalination plant of its kind in the Americas in San Quintin, allowing fields to be irrigated.
Ernesto Guevara, director of business development for BerryMex, told EFE that by using modern technology to desalinate seawater, the company will be able to make a positive environmental mark on the area.
“Desalinating seawater is a technology that addresses two fundamental matters. First, it allows us to continue the agricultural production of berries in the San Quintin Valley and, secondly, it’s an alternative source of water that is friendly to the environment,” Guevara said.
The plant uses a process called reverse osmosis to remove the salt and produce water for agricultural use.
“This is not potable water,” Guevara said.
The electricity for the desalination plant is partially generated with solar panels and the goal is to use 100 percent solar energy in the short-term, the BerryMex executive said.
The plant produces 225 liters per second of water and its capacity is expected to rise to 338 liters per second in the medium-term, Guevara said.
The project started in 2012 and took seven years to complete because the company had to conduct extensive environmental impact studies to avoid harming the arid area, the BerryMex executive said.
Similar agricultural desalination projects have been completed in Israel and Spain, but this is the first reverse osmosis plant built in Latin America, Guevara said.
Willie Hedrick, vice president of operations at BerryMex, said “San Quintin’s economic growth is closely linked to sustainable access to water, given that the coastal areas of Baja California are characterized by a low level of rain.”
Mexico has become an international leader in berry growing, ranking as the No. 2 producer in the world with exports totaling $1.7 billion in 2016.
The value of Mexico’s berry exports grew at an annual rate of 17 percent in the past decade.