News Saline agriculture excels in drought and heat 05 September 2018

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Hottest summer in three centuries

This summer, agriculture in the Netherlands faced challenging conditions due to dry and hot weather. The summer of 2018 has been reported as the warmest in the past three centuries in the Netherlands and more importantly, it had a precipitation deficit of over 300 mm at the beginning of August. Various organization have forecasted a reduction in yield by up to 25% for potatoes and up to 50% for crops such as carrots and beans. Other crops such as spinach, peas and broccoli will also have lesser availability in supermarkets. The drought has also affected the shape and size of the crops, which led to the Dutch government’s statements to not waste any food based on their looks “…smaak is leidend, niet de vorm” (Taste matters, not the shape) – Minister Carola Schouten.

Title picture: Recent carrot and cauliflower harvests from salinity plots of the test field


Picture: Combined drought indicator (2nd 10 days of August 2018, European Drought Observatory)

A better alternative

For the crops on our test field, the hot weather condition put an additional challenge on top of surviving the irrigation with saline water. Yet, we have seen some very promising results. Different crop varieties of carrots, beetroots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, wheat, oats, etc. have survived the salinity and the harsh weather conditions and produced good yields. Whereas previous data from organizations such as FAO shows that most of these crops suffer under high salinity.


Picture: Cauliflower grown in a medium salinity plot

Moreover, the potatoes on the test field, have grown well thanks to the saline agricultural methods. Whereas, the potato associations in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany have reported hard hits in both the quantity and quality of the yields this year. Thus, irrigating with brackish water is a better alternative than letting the crops dry out.

 

Of course, switching the water source is not a complete solution, saline agricultural methods will have to be adjusted depending on various other factors such as the soil type, climate condition, etc. Choosing high yielding salt-tolerant varieties is also important. We have done this in Pakistan, and are doing so in Bangladesh, both these regions have very different conditions than those of Texel.


Picture: "Bag full of data" Harvesting and collecting the cereals crops that are being tested by our SalFar partner from Sweden. (August 2018)

Globally, there are over 62 million hectares of irrigated farmland affected by salinization and additionally, we are losing about 2000 hectares of farmland every day. Our organizations have been actively working on the solution for over 10 years. A large part of the Netherlands’ surface area lies below sea level, thus there is always a constant threat of intrusion of seawater. Texel, in particular, proved to be a perfect testing ground for Saline agriculture and paved the way for a practical solution for a global problem.

Solutions as such as saline agriculture need to be implemented on a large scale, and therefore it is important to maintain an efficient interdisciplinary approach towards tackling climate change and to improve global food security.

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