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Researchers Aim To Tackle Global Food Insecurity Through Salt And Soil

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In North America alone, about 14 million households struggled to find food in 2018. There are many different reasons why — everything from poverty to a lack of transportation — but Miguel Acevdeo from the University of North Texas is focused on the source of the food itself — water and soil.

Acevedo talked with KERA's Justin Martin about how his team is working to combat food insecurity by finding solutions for the high salt content in farm soil and irrigation water in the western U.S.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

How Too Much Salt And Not Enough Water Hurts Crops

The main effect is that the plants don't grow as well — so the production of food decreases, the yield of the crop decreases.

Ultimately, the soil gets worse and worse over time. And then, in the long term you have problems with the health of the soil, which itself then prevents the yields of crops from improving.

Why They're Experimenting In New Mexico And Colorado

Those are the areas that are really at the heart of the issue of soil salinity in the USA.

In particular, southeastern New Mexico is considered an area where agriculture is deprived, because there is no access to grow crops because of issues with soil salinity.

If you go north to southeastern Colorado, the situation there is not because the soils were saline to begin with or the water was salty to begin with, but over the years, agricultural practices and low quality irrigation water has led to that problem.

What This Research Could Mean For Struggling Farmers And Ranchers

The most important effect will be for people who do not have access now to water to irrigate their crops. They could grow something on the land.

It also means that people who already have water but that water is of low quality, can increase the yield of crops by using this higher quality water for irrigation.

We've had a lot of interest from ranchers because they don't have the water available for the cattle to drink. In fact, there are some wells that have a very good flow of water, but the cattle will not touch it.

The Project's Goals And How It Could Help Texans

This is a five year project, so we hope that five years from now we will have demonstrated that we have improved the soil, crop yields and the efficiency of the crops in using water.

That means a lot for communities in New Mexico and Colorado where we have our study, but it has an immediate application in West Texas where the water is also brackish.

Answers have been edited for clarity.