Monday, February 14, 2011

Reduction in Need for Irrigation in Agriculture

Today, freshwater water is quickly becoming one of the most sought after resources especially for agriculture. In arid climates irrigation and the ability to maintain hearty crops are intimately intertwined and many cultures in these dry climates survive solely on their ability to produce a strong crop. Agriculture is often difficult there because droughts strike without notice and cause the ultimate demise of a farmer's livelihood. A recent study has been performed on the application of silicon to agricultural fields. This type of fertilizer should reduce the need to supplement droughts with irrigation, ultimately reducing the amount of freshwater used in agriculture.

In Africa and Asia, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a type of cereal grass, is an important crop and is greatly effected by low amounts of rainfall. Studies in the past have been conducted on some crops in order to find a way to increase the uptake of water with the application of fertilizers. Nitrogen has been added to soybeans ultimately increasing its drought tolerance. Phosphorus has been applied to sorghum, bean, and white clover changing their root characteristics and ability to uptake water. Drought tolerance in pearl millet and hibiscus have been increased by the addition of potassium to their agricultural fields. Antioxidant activity has been increased in liquorice by the addition of calcium. While all of these nutrient fertilizers are nutrients essential for growth, researchers were in search of an additional nutrient that could increase drought tolerance. Ultimately, scientist named silicon as the nutrient in question and aimed to discover if it had drought avoidance characteristics for sorghum.

In the past, silicon was proven to accumulate in endodermal tissue of sorghum and rice. These results of previous studies suggest that silicon plays an important role in water transport or root growth in drought conditions. This study was conducted on two different cultivators or sorghum that had different drought susceptibility. The conclusion of the study proved that when silicon was added to sorghum in drought conditions, the harmful effects of the drought were reduced and when it was added during wet conditions, no changes were seen. When silicon was applied to sorghum in drought conditions, the plants could extract a larger amount of water from dry soil and maintain a high stomata conductance.

The discovery of a nutrient that is not essential to growth which increases the ability of a plant to uptake water could prove to be important in agriculture. While fertilizers added to fields often drain into waterways and cause algal blooms ultimately creating dead zones in important water systems, silicon would not. Further, this nutrient could help to reduce the need for excessive amounts of irrigation to occur on agricultural fields in arid climates and even temperate climates. Research is continuing to be conducted on this new method of field fertilizer application and the results could prove to be important for water conservation and agriculture.


  1. This is really interesting. It would be a very useful technique to use silicon instead of having to use a lot of irrigation methods to keep plants alive in the west. This is a really cool study and hopefully it can be incorporated with little to no adverse effects.

  2. This is definitely an interesting study. I really enjoy the fact that this is more of a natural solution as oppose to the fertilizers that can have negative effects on the environment. I find it amazing how much we can alter plants today. Just think how much agriculture has changed in the past. In the past, if there was a drought then there was no crops, but today there is little affect from the drought. I'm thankful for this.

  3. Very interesting study. Other lines of research are looking to whether water use efficiency can be improved in individual crops, and there are also different alternative crops that could be grown that already have lower water requirements.