Water, or rather the lack of it, is one of the most pressing issues of our times. Unprecedented droughts and growing populations have left many countries struggling to keep up with demand. Given that agriculture is the largest single user of freshwater, providing farmers with new conservation techniques would go a long way in alleviating our water woes. It turns out that a “miracle” powder has been helping drought-stricken Mexican farmers do exactly that for over a decade!
Called Solid Rain, the non-toxic polymer that resembles powdered sugar, is the brainchild of Sergio Rico Velasco. The Mexican chemical engineer’s inspiration came from a starch-based product called “super slurper” that was invented by the US Department of Agriculture in the 1970’s. While Americans incorporated the super absorbent material in diapers to keep baby bottoms nice and dry, Velasco used the idea to create a product to help Mexican farmers combat severe drought conditions.
Farmers looking to conserve water can simply mix the powder in the soil, plant the crops as he/she normally would, and add water. The Solid Rain crystals capture the liquid and retain it under the plant in the form of a thick clear gel, creating an underground water reservoir for the plant’s roots to draw upon as needed. As a result, farmers do not have to water crops as often. According to the company, Solid Rain’s main ingredient, potassium polyacrylate, can soak and retain water up to 500 times its original size. Even better, the powder is effective for up to ten years.
While the claims may sound too good to be true, Solid Rain has been well-tested by both the Mexican farmers and government. A season-long study conducted by officials in the arid state of Hidalgo revealed that farmers using the powder were able to increase their crop yields by an average of 300 percent. Solid Rain also received the 2013 “Ecology and Environment Award” from Mexico’s Fundación Miguel Alemán and has been nominated twice for Stockholm International Water Institute’s “Global Water Award.”
So why isn’t Solid Rain a household name? The company says there are a number of reasons. First and foremost, though the product has been around for over a decade, Velasco did a poor job at marketing it and instead relied on farmers to help spread the word. Also, Solid Rain was not approved for sale in the United States until just a few years ago. As a result, many US farmers have either not heard of it or haven’t yet felt the need for a water-saving product.
The reason for the slower than expected demand could also be due to the fact that not all experts are sold on the idea. Dr. Linda Chalker Scott, a professor at Washington State University, says that there is no scientific proof that Solid Rain retains water or that it remains in the ground for up to a decade. She also worries that the product could have adverse effects. The expert says that when the gel dries out, it aggressively absorbs all surrounding water and even drains plant roots. Scott’s research showed that wood chip mulching was just as effective, and much cheaper, than Solid Rain, or any of the other competitors that are now available.
But while experts may not believe in the product, consumers like Frank Torres are avid fans. The former green bean farmer says he used the Solid Rain even though water was not an issue and saw a 50% increase in produce. Torres says that the best part was that “nutrients weren’t washing away every time we watered the plants.” They were instead being absorbed by the plant’s roots, making for healthier produce.
San Diego resident Patricia Lorenzo, who uses Solid Rain for her lawn and home garden, is also a big believer. Lorenzo says Solid Rain has reduced her daily lawn sprinkler time from 45 minutes to just six minutes. Even better, her home garden where she grows corn, figs, and herbs, now only needs occasional watering.
The manufacturer says that while Solid Rain began as a way to aid drought-stricken farmers, it can be used even when water is not a concern. Their new goal is to “save water for future generations, one drop at a time.” Hopefully, more people will join in this effort by incorporating Solid Rain or other water conservation techniques into their daily lives.