Agriculture

Controlling Salt Intake

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Science  02 Jan 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5910, pp. 17
DOI: 10.1126/science.323.5910.17c

It's hard to know which we might run out of sooner, fresh water or fresh land. Most agricultural systems depend on a plentiful supply of both. The problem is that irrigation, especially in brackish environments, and intense land usage can increase soil salinity, degrading the productivity of the land. Decreasing agricultural productivity in the face of increasing community needs moves us in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, demand rises for feed crops used to support milk and meat production. Khan et al. have devised a feed crop growth system that can be managed in the midst of brackish waters. Surveys of Pakistani herdsmen and herbalists led them to investigate the grass Panicum turgidum, which can grow in brackish waters and salty soils, but avoids accumulating salt itself, which would make it unappetizing and harmful as animal fodder. Cocultivation within a grid of Saueda fruticosa, a salt-accumulating plant that is used locally to make soap, kept the soil salinity stable. Farmers in southwestern Pakistan may be willing to replace their standard maize feed with this system. — PJH

Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 10.1016/j.agee.2008.10.014 (2008).

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