April 7, 2020 – The agriculture landscape along the Eastern Shore of Maryland is changing. What was once land filled with fields of corn is now home to wetlands with plants like salt marsh hay. The April 7th Sustainable, Secure Food blog explores how coastal farmers are dealing with salty soils.

Blogger Elizabeth de la Reguera explains, “Although soil salinization is not a new issue facing farmlands, saltwater intrusion is. This unique phenomenon is comprised of high salinity levels and long periods of saturation. This causes problems for farmers in coastal areas.”

Saltwater intrusion, the movement of sea salts from coasts to inland locations, is driven by several things:

  1. Well-known rising sea levels.
  2. Withdrawal of water from coastal aquifers for human use.
  3. The increased frequency and duration of droughts.
  4. The connections among agricultural water ditches.
  5. The frequency of storms and tides.

Farmers who wish to continue farming have started replacing crops with salt-tolerant species. Some have switched to sorghum because corn is no longer producing profitable yields. Farmers have also switched varieties of soy, because some are more salt-tolerant than others. Some types of barley can also grow in the region.

“Part of my research is determining the correct rotations of these new crops for farmers,” says de la Reguera. “Our preliminary data shows that salt-tolerant soybean has a higher percent germination compared to sorghum on salt-intruded farm fields.”

“The goal of our work is to develop agroecosystems that are resilient in the face of saltwater intrusion by developing management strategies that benefit farmers and environmental health.”

At the end of the day, a farmer needs to decide what the best course of action is for them. The unfortunate reality is that we can’t stop saltwater intrusion.

To learn more about the conservation efforts of farmers, read the new Sustainable, Secure Food blog: sustainable-secure-food-blog.com/2020/04/07/how-are-coastal-farmers-responding-to-salty-soils

This blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America. Our members are researchers and trained, certified professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply, while protecting our environment. They work at universities, government research facilities, and private businesses across the United States and the world.

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