Food production will need to double by the time Earth’s population grows to nine billion people by 2050.
This is a challenge that motivates scientists the world over and Australian crop scientist and plant nutritionist Peter Kopittke is no exception.
The young scientist spent a few days this past summer in the heart of Canada’s wheat belt working on the problem of aluminum toxicity in acidic soil. It’s a problem that affects wheat growers in many parts of the world although not in Saskatchewan, home to the CLS, where Kopittke spent an intense 36 hours earlier this year.
Globally, it is estimated that acid soils result in more than US$129 billion in lost production annually. In Western Australia, farmers lose A$1.5 billion annually because the aluminum in the soil destroys the root system, killing the plant.
Kopittke, associate professor in soil and environmental sciences at The University of Queensland, explains that few Saskatchewan wheat farmers will have ever heard of the aluminum toxicity problem as arable land in Saskatchewan is mostly alkaline, a pH condition that does result in any uptake of the element in plant roots. But Kopittke points out that 30 to 40 per cent of all the arable land in the world is acidic and aluminum is the third most common element in the world.
Image: Wheat seedlings grown in soils containing increasing levels of soluble aluminum. Roots at high aluminum are stunted with few branches.
Image courtesy of Steve Carr, Aglime Australia.