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Earth Biotech Science

Saline Agriculture As the Future of Food 153

Posted by timothy
from the rice-goes-with-shrimp-and-mango dept.
Damien1972 writes "To confront rising salinization, authors writing in the journal Science recommend increased spending on saline agriculture, which proposes growing salt-water crops to feed the world. Jelte Rozema and Timothy Flowers believe that salt-loving plants known as halophytes could become important crops, especially in areas where the salt content of the water is about half that of ocean water."
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Saline Agriculture As the Future of Food

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  • by tripdizzle (1386273) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:25PM (#25993801)
    I am sick of salting my popcorn anyway.
    • by txoof (553270)

      Would that be soylent green popcorn? You know the popcorn made from "high-energy plankton" harvested from the bounty of the sea.

      Wait, soylent popcorn is made of PEOPLE!

  • by ValuJet (587148) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:26PM (#25993805)

    Next step, salt water taffy farms.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I love halophytes...especially wrapped around raw fish and rice.

    • And don't forget..those brackish waters are good for growing yummy oysters too!!!
  • Necessary (Score:5, Informative)

    by Valdrax (32670) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:35PM (#25993931)

    I'd like to recommend the book "Collapse," by Jared Diamond (the author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel," another book I'd recommend). He spends several pages explaining the damage that salinization has done to farmland in places like Australia. It's kind of an eye opener about how wasteful irrigation policies have ended up basically permanently ruining large ares of Australia's farmlands by drawing salt up into the soil.

    The damage, once done, is ridiculously expensive to fix, so we need to find crops that can grow in the unusable land, especially as the world's population grows -- especially its meat-eating population as third world countries acquire first world living standards, which multiplies the need for vegetable crops.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      From TFA ... Iraq is pumping out old saline groundwater, presumably so new fresh groundwater can come in -- copying a technique used in Australia.

      I'd guess Australia doesn't share aquifers with any other countries, and intends to "refill" from rainforest runoff, which I expect the northern parts of Australia have more of than they need.

      I'm wondering if Iraq's rivers and runoff suffice to replenish its groundwater, without "robbing" groundwater from a neighbouring nation??

      As to saline-friendly crops, occurs

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DJDuck (1172519)
      To add to your reading "Back from the Brink" by Peter Andrews. The guy is no scientist, but as a life long farmer, who has proved that he can rehabilitate land, his ideas must be seriously considered. And what's more, they are cheap, just let the weeds grow and stop leaving ground bare.
    • by inviolet (797804)

      I'd like to recommend the book "Collapse," by Jared Diamond (the author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel," another book I'd recommend). He spends several pages explaining the damage that salinization has done to farmland in places like Australia. It's kind of an eye opener about how wasteful irrigation policies have ended up basically permanently ruining large ares of Australia's farmlands by drawing salt up into the soil.

      That's what happened to Sumer.

      Sumer began as a confederation of city-states in the best par

  • Bioremediation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ZirbMonkey (999495) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:36PM (#25993941)

    I love to hear about innovations like this. However it can be taken a step further.

    Not only can we make crops resistant to salty conditions, we can breed them to fix the soil and remove that salt. Bioremediation works on all sorts of poisoned soils, removing all sorts of poisons.

    Hell, we could have pre-salted potato chips!

    • by idontgno (624372)
      I'm totally in favor of bioremediation, but can we please draw a clean line between bioremediation crops and crops I put into my mouth? Pre-salted potato chips are good as long as the salts in question aren't toxic metal halides (Cadmium Chloride... YUMMY!). And no PCBs, dioxin, or radioactives, please.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ZirbMonkey (999495)

        You've obviously never eaten Pringles then.

        • Re:Bioremediation (Score:4, Interesting)

          by SwordsmanLuke (1083699) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:45PM (#25994853)
          I used to live in Idaho, literally up the street from a potato processing plant. After I found out what kind of potatoes Pringles were made from, it took me three years to be willing to eat them again. :)
          • by Valdrax (32670)

            I used to live in Idaho, literally up the street from a potato processing plant. After I found out what kind of potatoes Pringles were made from, it took me three years to be willing to eat them again. :)

            Now you have me curious. Dish.

            I know that what goes into processed food is usually the crops which aren't photogenic enough for the grocery store shelves, but what would seriously put you off?

        • I have. Say what worried me is that this morning I logged in on the neighbour's wireless and checked my mail. I responded to a mail from my boss.

          After a while I realized I had eaten the pringles can in my sleep and ... my laptop was not powered.

          Do you think this is a problem ? I also keep hearing internet radio whenever I'm near an access point.

    • "Hell, we could have pre-salted potato chips!"

      STOP! Stop right there. Let this line of thought go before we think too much about the manure they're grown in.

      Though it does explain plain dorritos.

    • Hell, we could have pre-salted potato chips!

      That probably wouldn't be good. The salt would be distributed evenly through the chip instead of on the surface where more comes in contact with our taste buds like current chips. To get the same "flavor" of saltiness, the amount of salt would have to be several times higher and we have too much salt in out diets as it is.

    • by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:57PM (#25995015) Homepage Journal

      I found some information [wikipedia.org] on wikipedia about that:

      "Salt-tolerant (moderately halophytic) barley and/or sugar beets are commonly used for the extraction of Sodium chloride (common salt) to reclaim fields that were previously flooded by sea water."

    • Not only can we make crops resistant to salty conditions, we can breed them to fix the soil and remove that salt. Bioremediation works on all sorts of poisoned soils, removing all sorts of poisons.

      You mean that it will concentrate heavy metals and other materials into crystals that could be harvested, returned to a refinery and the products fed into adjacent factories that can turn out weapons?

  • vaporware.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:36PM (#25993947)

    Sounded interesting until..

    While the authors admit that "the use of saline water for irrigation is in its infancy", they see enough promise in saline agriculture that they believe it to be "worth serious consideration and development."

    The only crop they suggest grow is Salicomia bigelovii crops.. Good for making soap but not so great for eating..

    What we really need is more research into GM crops which the environmentalists hate for some reason.

    It's proven to work in the past and has 30 year track record of bringing food into places where it was once not liveable.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There are actually lots of edible Halophytes. A quick search of the wikipedia yields one genus of 100-200 species, many of which are edible:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atriplex [wikipedia]

    • by Poppler (822173)

      There's nothing wrong with researching GM crops.

      When it starts to get more complicated is when you put them into production without sufficient testing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Entropy2016 (751922)

        You're forgetting also the legal ramifications of patented GM organisms which require licenses to grow.

        Nothing like GM crops accidentally creeping into an unwitting farmer's crop, giving the GM-corporation (coughmonsantocough) an excuse to sue the heck out of people who didn't even want anything to do with their modified crops.

        • by Poppler (822173)

          I've heard a bit about that, very nasty. Makes the RIAA look like honest businessmen.

      • by LingNoi (1066278)

        That's an environmentlist lie. GM crops undergo a lot of testing, watch this [youtube.com] @ 6:50

        • by Poppler (822173)

          Food safety is not the issue, that's tested easily enough.

          It's a bit more difficult to predict the environmental impact of introducing modified crops on a large scale.

          • by extrasolar (28341)

            I don't really understand this. Do "natural" crops ever get tested? What about when a new mutation/breed emerges on it's own?

            What's the difference?

            • by Poppler (822173)

              Controlled breeding is time-tested, genetic modification is not. That doesn't mean 'don't do it', it means 'extensive research should be done first'.

              "Transgene introgression from genetically modified crops to their wild relatives" [sau.edu](pdf)

              We still do not have a comprehensive understanding of the risks of transgene introgression. We know that genes can be naturally introgressed between different species, albeit at generally low frequencies and over long periods of time. However, government regulators of transgen

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by internerdj (1319281)
      At least we can finally fix the unwashed part of the whole unwashed masses thing...
    • The "GM crops which the environmentalists hate for some reason" are the ones developped for the sole purposes of using herbicides and pesticides, baring no usable seeds, used in huge monocultures that wash out the soils and the microorganisms living in it, along with helping breed super-pests that cannot be controlled by their natural predators, killed by the pesticides mentioned earlier. Silly environmentalists... On another note, I thought we could eat saline algae... Can't they just figure out the tas
      • My mother used to mix dried seaweed into stir-fries. I hated the stuff as a kid, but I've gotten over all my other childhood food issues (except olives) so it might taste ok now.

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        What do you mean "developped for the sole purposes of using herbicides and pesticides"?

        How is it not the exact opposite? That is, to make plants need less pesticides, by naturally resisting insects? (Though you could possibly claim that the plant itself would be generating pesticides, I don't know if that's truly how it works, or even if that's anywhere near as harmful as actual pesticides being sprayed on.)

    • GM Crops (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:23PM (#25994601)

      What we really need is more research into GM crops which the environmentalists hate for some reason.

      I'll try to field this one. I'm a moderate on the issue. I don't think GM crops are themselves a bad idea, but I am studying environmental law, and I have pretty good exposure to what people in the movement worry about.

      You can summarize the problem with GM crops into a few distinct worries:
      1) A love of "natural" foods.
      2) Worries about crop contamination.
      3) What GM technology is *actually* being used for. (Instead of the "feel good" science.)
      4) Safety issues in the creation of GM crops.

      First, a lot of people worry about "frankenfoods." They don't want "unnatural" crops because they're worried about the safety of these crops. As my use of quotation marks suggests, I'm not a big supporter of this viewpoint, but a lot of customer do feel that way which is one reason why organic food certifications don't allow GM crops. I won't defend this view because it's not my own, and I haven't gotten a good solid explanation of it.

      But it brings us to point 2. Pollen from GM crops is a HUGE problem for organic farmers. Planting GM crops freely in an area can destroy the market for organic crops at home as well as for selling to Europe and other parts of the world where GM crops are disdained by customers. You simply cannot protect your crop against contamination in many cases. (Also, besides market concerns, there's the infamous Canadian patents case, Monsanto v. Schmeiser [wikipedia.org].)

      The third point is one that really cheeses of a lot of environmentalists. You hear a lot of awesome things in the news about how scientists have invented rice with extra vitamin A or tomatoes with longer shelf life. The truth is that there are really only two major types of changes which companies have fought to get onto the market -- crops that come with their own built-in Bt insecticide and crops that let you liberally sprinkle around the herbicide RoundUp. (A notable exception to this would be GM papaya engineered to resist the papaya ringspot virus which saved the Hawaiian conventional papaya industry while wiping out the organic industry there.)

      Personally, I would have no problem with eating crops modified to be more healthy, but both of the above practices do nothing but help prolong the survival of crop monocultures. A lot of farming pest problems exist largely because farmers fight tooth and nail to plant the same plant over and over again, providing excellent feeding grounds for pests and opportunistic species. The use of Bt has taken a surprisingly long time to create resistance pests, but hey, so it begins. [sciencedaily.com] Oh, and RoundUp resistance is starting to become increasingly common, meaning that farmers are going to start turning to more toxic chemicals.

      It's like disease resistance and the use of antibiotics in farm animals, another tragedy of the commons situation. People realized that if you give cattle antibiotics, they grow larger, so farmers started pumping cattle full of a variety of antibiotics. One by one, bacteria have become resistant in the animals themselves, through plasmid swapping in the soil and environment, and through exposure throughout the environment thanks to runoff of cattle urine and wastes into streams. So, they keep trying new chemicals as the old ones cease to work (or in the case of tetracycline resistance endanger human health).

      So, as insecticides & pesticides become useless, farmers will turn to increasingly more hostile and dangerous chemicals to farm. ...Which they wouldn't need so much if practiced more sustainable agriculture methodology. But the USDA subsidizes the current monoculture-friendly, heavy petroleum byproducts using methods, so as game theory suggests, no one wants to change.

      Anyway, the la

      • by profplump (309017)

        The third point is one that really cheeses of a lot of environmentalists. You hear a lot of awesome things in the news about how scientists have invented rice with extra vitamin A or tomatoes with longer shelf life. The truth is that there are really only two major types of changes which companies have fought to get onto the market -- crops that come with their own built-in Bt insecticide and crops that let you liberally sprinkle around the herbicide RoundUp. (A notable exception to this would be GM papaya

        • You can't really blame them for whining though. The biotech firms are still trying to commercialize things like Terminator Technology [wikipedia.org] seeds. No, they don't grow miniature governators, they grow crops that produce sterile seeds - breaking the fundamental rule of agriculture (never eat your seedcorn), and placing control firmly in the hands of the company that controls the technology, Monsanto.

          As the GPP points out, western agriculture is essentially addicted to Roundup. Monsanto already directly forbids rese

      • About your post.

        1.
        Yeah, it's a shame that a lot of people think this way. Nuff said.

        2.

        Pollen from GM crops is a HUGE problem for organic farmers. Planting GM crops freely in an area can destroy the market for organic crops at home as well as for selling to Europe and other parts of the world where GM crops are disdained by customers. You simply cannot protect your crop against contamination in many cases. (Also, besides market concerns, there's the infamous Canadian patents case, Monsanto v. Schmeiser [wikipedia.org].)

        Agreed. You cannot protect your crop. The only reasons this is a problem are the first point ('frankencrops', to which I say, 'too bad', with roads, we also have 'frankengeography', live with it), and protecting existing markets. Why should they be protected? Because they were there first? I'm glad the farriers didn't quash the tyre manufacturers with a similar line of thinking. To my mind, anything essential

    • by serbanp (139486)

      What we really need is more research into GM crops which the environmentalists hate for some reason.

      It's proven to work in the past and has 30 year track record of bringing food into places where it was once not liveable.

      Insightful my ass.

      You should really read more about GEO (and GM foods in particular), not only Monsanto's leaflets. As of today, there's hardly any, ANY proven benefit of GM foods, except for the seed/herbicide makers and their tools in congress and FDA/EPA.

      So what positive GM examples you have in mind?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by LingNoi (1066278)

        Here you go [youtube.com].

      • by PIBM (588930)

        Any proven benefits of GM foods ? Some companies make tons of cash out of it.. definitely a benefit for them!

    • Re:vaporware.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:38PM (#25994787) Homepage

      What we really need is more research into GM crops which the environmentalists hate for some reason.

      I consider myself an environmentalist, but I'm not against GM crops per-se. I'm against the most prominent examples of how they've actually been implemented and the companies responsible.

      Basically, it comes down to this: If DRM is a bad idea for software, it's a fucking insanely retarded thing for food crops.

      • by LingNoi (1066278)

        You've been brainwashed by bad examples. You should see some of the good work being done in India and Africa to bring growable food to the population.

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          I'm not "brainwashed" by bad examples. I'm talking about, and am only against, as I explicitly stated, the bad examples.

          Feeding someone today, at the cost of the right for them to control their own food sources in the future, and eliminating the foundation of millennia of agriculture in the right to plant seeds from last year's crop, is not "good work". It's an act of cruelty and enslavement. It's the "good work" of the devil, taking advantage of the desperate in order to control them. Some African coun

          • by LingNoi (1066278)

            No that's bullshit, greenpeace scared the governments into dumping the rice (rice you can't plant in africa) which could have fed millions due to the whole GM FUD.

            Environmentalists have killed millions of people who have starved to death just to forward their agenda on GM food.

            Check out the video I posted in other comments.

            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              The Terminator breed is indeed bullshit, but not in the sense you mean.

              Yes, fear about "Frankenfood" exists. Fortunately progress has been made regarding those invalid concerns.

              Fear about oppressive legal requirements, and strains of plants that actually enforce those requirements, has become a more recent, and 100% valid concern. You can find the leaders of african countries rejecting Monsanto seeds for exactly, and specifically, that reason on teh googles.

              Take Monsanto out of the picture, and I'm a prop

    • What we really need is more research into GM crops which the environmentalists hate for some reason.

      Just wanted to note that it's only a subset of environmentalists who oppose GM crops... and there are plenty of people who don't consider themselves environmentalists who oppose GM crops.

      Some reasons, outside of fear of the unkown and religion, that people oppose GM crops:

      GM crops tend to promote monoculture, which heightens risk of catastrophic widespread crop failure.
      GM crops can be used to make farmers d

      • not to mention the loss of farmers' right to recycle harvested crops via saved seeds (see: terminator gene [wikipedia.org]), the risk of lawsuits independent non-GM farmers face if their crops get cross-pollinated on accident (or intentionally), and the general loss of non-patented natural plant species.

        it's simply insane to allow international conglomerates to patent the genetic code of living organisms. first off, the code they started with was not of their own creation. modern crops are the result of thousands of years

    • by fritsd (924429)
      Why not "zeekraal"? I absolutely adore the stuff, it's one of the best vegetables in existence, and so difficult to buy.

      Mmmmmm... zeekraal...

  • The article states that only 1% of terrestrial plants can grow in such conditions and it names exactly one crop that might, theoretically, be valuable for its oil. Wow. That's a pretty slim basis on which to try to feed humanity.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:41PM (#25994021)

    So why don't we just artificially mutate the human race, to have have gills, so that we can all just live in the ocean?

    And eat coral and seaweed, and stuff like that.

    If we lived in the ocean, we might more enjoy eating stuff that grows there . . . like each other!

  • Brawndo (Score:4, Funny)

    by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:43PM (#25994045) Homepage Journal
    It's got electrolytes!
  • by Kohath (38547) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:49PM (#25994161)

    The future of food is exactly like the present. There's plenty of food. There's so much that they're converting it into transportation fuel to prop up the price of the food. They're subsidizing food production because farmers can't pay their bills because huge surpluses drag down the market price. Obesity is a growing international problem because there's so much food.

    • by daigu (111684)

      Yet, almost a billion people are currently hungry. This suggests a distribution problem - and systemic problems such as lack of subsidized food availability such as food stamps in the poorest countries.

  • wetlands (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    yes, why don't we convert more wetlands, seeing how well Louisiana fared with Katrina!

  • by Khopesh (112447) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:04PM (#25994359) Homepage Journal

    This article (at Mongabay, not Science) starts out strong, saying "accessible and unpolluted freshwater is a necessity for every nation's stability and well-being." Unfortunately, that first sentence was the last reference in the article to the issue of pollution or non-salt contamination.

    What we really need is the ability to farm directly in the ocean without producing inedible food. The article's referenced halophytes [wikipedia.org] (plants that can grow in salt water) are just one piece of the issue, as the ocean is also filled with other contaminants (mercury, industrial waste, and so very much more). We can probably do some farming with net-like filters around enclosed areas (similar to the way most fish farming [wikipedia.org] works). Wikipedia calls this "open cage aquaculture." However, these filters can only get so much, and once you get complex enough to need a treatment facility, you've defeated the purpose of farming in the ocean (unless you treat the whole ocean...).

    The referenced Science Magazine [sciencemag.org] article gets published tomorrow, but you can see related documents by searching for the authors (Rozema and Flowers) and salination [google.com]. Perhaps the actual article will discuss this issue...

  • by sirusv (903008) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @07:19PM (#25996145)
    Locatated [duckisland.info] in the upper south east of South Australia my father has been very sucussful in converting once barron salt pans in to usable pasture with Puccinellia [vic.gov.au]. This grass originates from the west coast of Turkey and it is claimed that it is the most salt tolerant of all the commercially available grasses. James has always had an environmental eye in how he approached farming. I have heard him say 'don't fight it, use it' on more than one occasion. Field studies into the use of Puccinellia at his property have shown that the results were spectacular [ndsp.gov.au]. Puccinellia has now become an intergral part of the farm providing highly productive and useful pasture component.
  • Seasteading (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2008 @10:59PM (#25998367)
    This topic interests me in the context of "seasteading" [wikipedia.org] especially. It would be helpful to have a suitable crop for growing in the ocean rather than on platforms on the ocean. Kelp/seaweed would be suitable, if it could be grown in the shallows near a platform in deep water. From what I understand, there was such an experiment, done by dangling a frame below a floating platform. Unfortunately, the vibrations of the cables damaged the plants.
  • Better idea... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gstrickler (920733)
    I've got a better idea. Stop wasting farmland and fresh water growing crops to make ethanol. Use those for growing food. If you want to grow stuff for ethanol, use saltwater and/or aquaculture. There's plenty of saltwater, plenty of space, and it's resources that aren't already in high demand.

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