Drought conditions are worsening. Can self-watering soil quench farming’s thirst?

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are toying with a novel solution to increasingly frequent drought conditions: self-watering soil. They’re focusing on a new irrigation system using “hydrogels”—polymers that can easily retain and release water. (It’s the same material used in many contact lenses!) The researchers have been mixing hydrogels into soil to see if they can absorb water during cooler nighttime weather and release it to irrigate crops during warmer daytime conditions. According to Modern Farmer, they’ve already conducted one successful experiment on drought-ridden radishes. But don’t expect to mix hydrogels in your garden anytime soon—cost is a major consideration and the technology is still in its early days of experimentation.

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