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Farming on salty soil

Salty soil can be caused by a number of problems, including drought and a lack of rainfall to flush salts out of the soil, salt water intrusion and rising sea levels near the coast, and irrigation from salty aquifers.  Over time, the salts build up and make it difficult to grow many types of crops.  I’ve seen several articles lately on farmers trying to deal with salty soil and find plants that can grow on soil that does not support other crops.

A National Public Radio (NPR) story today discussed the impacts of salt on the production of New Mexico’s chiles.  The recent drought has accelerated the salty conditions in the soil lately, making it difficult to grow this iconic crop in the Southwest.  This is in spite of improvements in farm management that allow them to grow seven times more chile per acre than in the 1990s.

Another NPR article earlier this week discussed a new hybrid of rice that is better adapted to salty soils than previous varieties.  The use of this variety of rice is increasing, particularly in areas with naturally salty soil and areas like Bangladesh where rising sea levels are making the soils more salty over time.

An article last year in Oxy discussed embracing salty conditions and growing halophytes, a type of plant that is well suited to living in salty conditions.  While there are halophytes that are used for food, there is more interest in halophytes that can be used to produce fuel.

And finally, a National Geographic photoessay on the Aral Sea, which has lost 90 percent of its water due to diversion of the feeder rivers to irrigate cotton and other thirsty crops, resulting in salt pans and radically changing the lifestyle of the people who live near there

Image: Carolyn Drake/National Geographic

Image: Carolyn Drake/National Geographic

Source: Tim McCabe/USDA NRCS

Source: Tim McCabe/USDA NRCS