Growing fresh lettuce with less irrigation - it can be done![ 2012-07-09 ]
Lettuce growers could safely reduce the amount of irrigation water used on their fields by 25 %, so say researchers working on an ongoing EU-funded project into how climate change and globalisation affect the production of fresh produce.
The Veg-i-Trade ('Impact of climate change and globalisation on safety of fresh produce governing a supply chain of uncompromised food sovereignty') project, which runs until 2014, receives EUR 5,999,997 of support under the 'Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The project, coordinated by Mieke Uyttendaele from Ghent University in Belgium, brings together 23 project partners, ranging from universities, research institutes, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large industrial partners, across 10 countries: Belgium, Brazil, Egypt, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.
With 70% of all water consumed being used in agriculture, and climate change only set to increase water scarcity and raise temperatures further, it is imperative that growers, particularly those in Mediterranean areas, reduce their water use by employing a more efficient water management strategy. This emerging water scarcity problem is a global challenge that needs to be tackled if we are to move towards a more sustainable way of living.
As well as anticipating the effects of water scarcity, the Veg-i-Trade findings show that using less water also helps increase the shelf life of fresh-cut lettuce, reduces farming costs and improves sustainability.
Researchers at the department of Food Science and Technology at the Spanish research institute CEBAS-CSIC, one of the Veg-i-Trade partners, have investigated the influence of different irrigation water doses on the quality and safety characteristics of two different types of fresh-cut lettuce: Romaine and Iceberg.
For three years they carried out different trials at the Primaflor farm in Pulpí, Spain, one of the largest lettuce growers in Europe. Different doses of irrigation water have been used: 50% and 25% more water, 50% and 25% less water, as well as the current amount as a control.
The results show that using 25% less irrigation water prolongs the storage period, i.e. the lettuce's shelf life, decreases browning on the cut edge of lettuce pieces and preserves microbiological quality.
The researchers found that for the lettuces that were given 25% and 50% more irrigation water the opposite effects were observed.
Using a significantly reduced amount of water has positive economic effects and will be music to the ears of many farmers who are feeling the pinch amid the ongoing economic downturn. In the Veg-i-Trade case study, employing an optimised water management programme resulted in a reduction of EUR 200 per hectare per year.
To boot, if using less water results in healthier and tastier lettuces, at the other end of the food chain consumers will be happier too.
The Veg-i-Trade project partners are investigating viruses, bacteria such as E. coli., mycotoxins and pesticide residues on fresh produce. Veg-i-Trade studies the possible impact of globalisation and climate change on the food safety of fresh produce.
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Data Source Provider: Ghent University
Document Reference: Based on information from Ghent University
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Environmental Protection; Life Sciences; Scientific Research; Social Aspects