Napa experiment could change world of agriculture


Whether there will there be enough water in rivers and dams to go around to houses and farmers is anyone's guess, but one researcher has found another source of water.

In a field filled with old, hand-planted Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Mondavi vineyards in Napa, there is an experiment underway that could change agriculture as we know it.

"The theory is, we have to make water from air without using energy and plant our plants with that," Pieter Hoff says.

Hoff used to grow tulips in Holland, but sees this as a greater calling. Since 1994, he has been developing "water boxes" as he calls them. They cool at night, pull moisture from the air, and use it to irrigate young plants and trees of all kinds.

It is the same process seen when cold liquid in a glass condenses water from the outside air.

"There's a lot of water in the atmosphere. Actually, what people forget, is that all the water that you see in rivers traveled through the air," Hoff says.

There is actually a scientific name for the process, "bio-mimicry." It basically means "building a device that imitates nature." In this case, the "water boxes" imitate the surface of lotus leaves.

Matt Ashby says he was skeptical at first.

"At first I was, but after thinking of it for five minutes, I was pretty intrigued," he says.

Ashby manages the vineyards at Mondavi. Each device collects about 200 CCs of water a day, but added up, he estimates the process could save 175,000 gallons of water a year and partly, because it encourages heartier plants with deeper roots.

If grapes and other plants struggle when young, they dig deeper roots and might not need irrigation at all.

"What you actually do is, you give enough water to let it survive, but not enough to let it grow," Hoff says.

Hoff has experimented with the water box in eight countries by now and says it even works in the Sahara Desert. His goals are to reforest the planet, save water and consume global warming carbon dioxide the natural way, all at $25 a copy.

"I am not crazy. I am inspired," he says.

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