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Saline Farming Key to Food Security

Scientists are looking at rapidly advancing technologies to make saline farming a more viable option to solve flooding-related challenges facing the agriculture sector all over the world.

Increased salinity is becoming more prevalent, about 1 to 3 million hectares of land in Europe, specifically the Mediterranean countries, are being affected by this degradation process.

In the UK, researchers from the University’s Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), which includes Climate Change expert Professor Pier Vellinga, are examining options to implement saline agriculture. This is a farming method that is adapted to soil and water sources with a high salt content. This solution could mean the survival of coastal farms which are at a great risk of flooding.

In a recent conference, Prof. Vellinga presented the case for coastal agriculture especially with the rise in sea levels brought about by the loss of ice mass in both Greenland and Antarctica. The scientist cited data from the Netherlands where they developed “super dikes”and focused on saline agriculture which was achieved by tweaking the DNA of fresh water crops so they become tolerant to salt.

The University’s Deputy Head for the School of Geography, Dr. Gary Bosworth likewise revealed a new research project. Dubbed as “SalFar”, this European-funded project will focus on alternative farming methods so farmers can adapt to rising sea levels.  The research will include the development of salt-tolerant crops as well as finding new technologies to improve saline farming on a global scale.

The idea is to consume less fresh water for crops, revitalize degraded land, and create more plants and crops which can grow on salty soil.

Solving Food Insecurity

As the world’s population increases, the need for fuel, water, and food also grows exponentially. While farmers struggle with the problem of shrinking arable land, they also have to contend with increased soil salinity and degradation. This is most prevalent in developing countries which are experiencing a boom in their population.

Salt-resilient crops can be used for both landscape reintegration for growing food as well as resin, essential oils, and pharmaceutical products.

A graphic of a plant with rots, and salt granules being filtered away.

Data says the USA is wasting precious land because of biodiesel plant production. Australia, for its part, is dealing with dry land salinity. The region is experiencing a rise in water tables because the original vegetation has been cleared to make way for new crop production. While this may seem like a problem, other countries have already been successful at establishing viable solutions. Israel, for one, uses brackish water for farming as well as other unconventional water resources for irrigation.

Tunisia is another country which has adapted well to agricultural challenges. Here, they grow alternative plant species such as halophytes, which can thrive even on limited water and in high temperatures.

Increased salinity is becoming more prevalent, about 1 to 3 million hectares of land in Europe, specifically the Mediterranean countries, are being affected by this degradation process.

Soil salinity is also a big problem is Spain, where 3.5 million hectares of irrigated land is affected. This could possibly affect 15% of its agricultural production. Other areas which are seriously at risk are the Ukraine, the Caspian Basin as well as the Carpathian Basin.

As the world needs more food and arable land and clean water is becoming harder to come by, scientists and researchers are turning to alternative means to feed a growing population. Non-traditional species of crops created through genetic engineering – but with respect to food safety and a concern for the environment – are being developed as a bold and innovative method to achieve food stability.

Food Testing Technology: Safety Process Sets Speed Record

A bold invention developed by a team of researchers in Singapore has cut the waiting time for food product safety tests in half.

It has been able to automate total viable counts, coliform counts, generic E. coli and Enterobacteriaceae, lactic acid bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, as well as detect the presence of yeasts and molds.

Tempo is an innovative food quality indicator system which was developed at the Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) food and safety center, in partnership with BioMerieux, a French company that manufactures In Vitro Diagnostic systems.

It was released in mid-June of this year and promises to determine if a food product is safe for distribution and public consumption in approximately 24 hours. This is around 100 times faster than the existing processes.

High Demand for Food Testing Tech

According to The Straits Times, small and medium-sized businesses can use the technology within NYP’s testing facility for a fee. This will allow the said companies to conduct research as well as rapid testing for the food products they have developed and are planning to sell.

Market reports state that the food safety testing market is expected to be worth $17.16 Billion by year 2021. The expansion is fueled by stricter testing parameters as consumers become more concerned about global outbreaks of food borne illnesses.

Food is tested for the presence of pathogens and other microorganisms which affects product hygiene and food spoilage.

In recent years, there have been countless product recalls ordered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is due to the presence of various pathogens within the products, which in turn contaminated the food. Salmonella, usually detected in eggs and chicken, accounted for the highest incidences of contamination. Other pathogens include Campylobacter and E. coli.

A woman in a laboratory with a microscope.

Rapid testing technologies like Tempo will make the work in laboratories more efficient. Especially considering the instrument can analyse both food and environmental samples. It has been able to automate total viable counts, coliform counts, generic E. coli and Enterobacteriaceae, lactic acid bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, as well as detect the presence of yeasts and molds.

Technologies like Tempo are sought after because they are quick, accurate, efficient and easy to use. The faster a product is tested to be safe for distribution, the faster it can be made available in stores and groceries all over the world.

The most profitable food testing market is produce, which includes fresh and processed vegetables. Additional lucrative markets consist of beef and poultry; dairy (including eggs); seafood and fish; and lastly, grains.

Among the companies offering this kind of food testing service, BioMerieux ranks as the third largest. The top two are Qualikon (DuPont) and 3M, as reported by Rapid Biosystems. EMD Chemicals (Merck), Bio-Rad Laboratories, BD Diagnostics and Neogen have also been tagged as major players. However, apart from food testing, these companies also conduct tests related to the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries.

Tempo, for its part, will also become an effective training tool for NYP students who want to learn more about the food safety industry. Reports say that the Asia Pacific region will be the fastest growing one when it comes to food safety testing. Apart from the development of bold and cutting-edge testing equipment, countries like Japan are enforcing more stringent rules and regulations to prevent food-borne infections and outbreaks.