The produce of the future will be abundant and unlike those of the present.
As global temperatures reach record highs — 2023 was the hottest year on record — scientists are racing to meet the challenge, developing everything from “low-chill” cherries and a more sustainable avocado to sunscreened cauliflower and carrots that can handle hot, dry, salty soil.
In the case of Bugs Bunny’s favorite snack, salinity is especially harmful to seedlings and just prior to harvest, The New York Times reported.
This super carrot may be 10 to 15 years from perfection, and Phil Simon, a horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has already invested more than a decade’s worth of time in the pursuit, but a carrot whose seeds can germinate in such harsh conditions could be a game-changer.
“In a drought, there’s not enough moisture to dilute mineral salts in groundwater,” the Times reported.
And droughts are exacerbated by the changing climate, which makes them longer, more frequent, and more severe, according to the United States Geological Survey. The Western U.S. has experienced some of the driest conditions on record since 2000, and the Southwest is in an extreme drought.
Four regions in California produce 85% of the carrots grown in America, while Michigan and Texas are other major sources of the root.
One of Simon’s carrot ideas is to breed the sweet orange commercial carrot with a wild white carrot from Turkey that can tolerate triple-digit heat.
It’s just one of many projects undertaken around the world to ensure future food security.
Perhaps most important are ventures to engineer rice stomata — minute pores that regulate the uptake of carbon dioxide and water loss. The researchers at the University of Sheffield have shown rice with lower stomatal density uses water more efficiently in drought conditions and that reducing the number of stomata makes rice more salt-resistant, which could help farmers in Vietnam and other places where seawater intrusion is becoming a problem.
Rice is one of the most important crops in the world, accounting with wheat and corn for 51% of calories in the global diet.
The Times noted other initiatives, including seedless blackberries, “melons that drink less,” and potatoes and apples that can withstand extreme temperatures. The blackberries require less land, water, and fertilizer and grow on thornless vines, while the melons have deep root systems that can handle drought.
Science to the rescue.
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