Controlled environment agriculture platform for hydroponic cultivation of salt-tolerant Crops with integrated saline water irrigation and salinity management


Program overview

This project is funded by USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program, promotes the sustainable supply of abundant, affordable, safe, nutritious, and accessible food and other agricultural products, while enhancing economic opportunities and improving the long-term health and well-being of all Americans. SAS seeks to help transform the U.S. food and agricultural system to increase production in sustainable ways as we approach a world population of 9.8 billion by 2050, and doing so in the context of diminishing land and water resources, changing climate and increasing frequency of extreme weather events, threats of outbreaks of diseases and pests, and challenges to human health and well-being. Solving these challenges will require a convergence of science and technology to: optimize agricultural productivity; ensure safe, affordable, and nutritious supply of food; invigorate and realize the promise of the bioeconomy; and promote the development of a talented agricultural workforce.

Project summary

Water and food are two of the world’s most critical resources. We are witnessing an unprecedented era of regional freshwater scarcity, driven by population growth and climate change-induced droughts. Globally, agriculture alone is responsible for about 70% of freshwater withdrawals, the leading cause of water stress and scarcity in many regions worldwide. Moreover, besides water scarcity in regions of irrigated agriculture, drought-impacted regions of rain-fed agriculture may be forced to transition to irrigation. This regional water scarcity will pose significant social, environmental, and economic problems, given that future food demands may not be met with renewable freshwater alone.

As an alternative to fresh water, an enormous opportunity lies in the utilization of non-traditional (impaired quality) water sources for irrigation, including reclaimed municipal wastewaters and saline (salty) waters. There has already been considerable study on, and implementation of, the reuse of reclaimed municipal wastewater for crop irrigation; however, because of the disparity between water location (urban areas) and agricultural activity (rural areas), competing uses (e.g., potable reuse), and public health risks for certain (e.g., uncooked) food crops, its potential role in food production has already been largely exploited. Thus, abundant saline waters represent a key opportunity to address freshwater scarcity if it can be used to cultivate salt-tolerant crops.

In order to promote food security, research is needed in new concepts of saline agriculture to address the grand challenge of food production in regions of present and future freshwater scarcity, given the abundance of various saline water sources. Our general research objective is to develop an integrated hydroponics contained environment agriculture (CEA) platform for the cultivation of salt-tolerant food crops with saline irrigation waters while enhancing increased salt tolerance in crops, developing new concepts in agricultural-sector desalting technologies, and managing salinity.