Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Salt Water Irrigation: Study Shows It Works

17.12.2008
Take an arid field riddled with salty soil. Irrigate it with salty water. Plant a salt-tolerant grass along with a salt-sucking companion plant and what do you get? If you're a Brigham Young University research team, you raise a crop that successfully replaces corn as cattle feed.

Their research highlights the promise of using salty water to turn the salty soil in the world's arid regions into sustainable agricultural land.

Just published online in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment ahead of the February issue, the study identified a plant that could thrive in yet-unusable lands near the coasts in much of the world. But don't throw away your salt-shakers - the beef from the cattle raised on it tastes just the same as the meat you're used to.

"It seems odd that salty soil and salty water could produce useful crops, but that's what this study showed," said Brent Nielsen, chair of BYU's microbiology and molecular biology department and corresponding author on the study. "It's exciting to share in work that directly benefits people who need to find more land in order to produce the food and income they need to survive."

The research team focused on a plant called Panicum turgidum that can grow in salty conditions. They measured its protein content and determined that it could be a suitable alternative to existing cattle feed. Then they tested its growth potential when irrigated with the salty water found in the area. They showed that Panicum grew so fast it could be harvested almost monthly. Overall, with limited fertilizer, they produced 60,000 kilograms per hectare during the yearlong study. Nielsen is confident that further studies that determine the best ratios of fertilizer will boost that number over 100,000 kilograms.

The researchers also used nature to preserve a sustainable growing environment. Panicum is a "salt excluder," meaning it survives salty conditions by keeping salt out of its system, which most other plants can't do. Although this allows Panicum to grow on salty water, the extra salt deposited by irrigation would render the soil too salty for even this hardy plant. So the researchers found that planting a companion crop that is a "salt accumulator" prevented the soil from getting too salty. The other plant sucked up the extra salt, then was harvested and burned and the ashes turned into soap. After the yearlong study, the levels of salt in the soil were virtually unchanged.

The Balochistan region of southern Pakistan, where Nielsen's collaborators conducted the test, is one of the world's driest places, and the underground water supply is "brackish" or salty because of its proximity to the Indian Ocean.

There is a strong demand for fodder to feed the cattle that are a main source of income in the region, so a crop that can grow successfully in these conditions "would have enormous impact on the quality of life in local communities," said Ajmal Khan, a professor at the University of Karachi, director of the Pakistani research team and first author on the paper.

The Panicum was fed to cattle, and the cattle grew as big or bigger as those fed corn, with similar amounts of protein in their meat.

As world populations grow and agricultural land is threatened, this new approach can open up more crops for both livestock and humans, Nielsen said.

"By being able to transfer production of animal feed closer to the coasts, where you have these salty soils, more useful agricultural lands can be free for vegetable and grain production for human consumption," he said.

Now that Nielsen and his research colleagues have established that their approach works, they are taking a closer look at how the plant uses "tricks of nature" to survive a salty environment. Then the researchers want to explore breeding those traits into more traditional food crops. Another possibility is discovering the genes that help it tolerate salt and genetically engineering other plants to do the same.

Nielsen's collaboration with Khan and his other Pakistani colleagues grew out of Khan's multiple stints at BYU under the guidance of now-retired BYU scientist Darrell Weber. Khan, whose wife Bilquees Gul earned her Ph.D. at BYU and is also a coauthor on the study, said he hopes to "continue 23 years of very useful association with BYU."

Michael Smart | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.byu.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Alkaline soil, sensible sensor
03.08.2017 | American Society of Agronomy

nachricht New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>