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Lettuce can be grown with 25% less irrigation water


August 13, 2012
By Ghent University

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August 13, 2012 – Research performed by the European research project Veg-i-Trade has found that lettuce growers can reduce their irrigation use in the field by 25 per cent. According to the research results, using less water increases the shelf life of fresh-cut lettuce, reduces farming costs, improves sustainability and anticipates the scarcity of water due to climate change.

Climate change can lead to water scarcity and higher temperatures. Knowing that 70 per cent of consumed water is used in agriculture, one of the challenges for growers is to reduce water use by making water management more efficient. The department of food science and technology at the Spanish research institute CEBAS-CSIC has investigated the influence of different irrigation water doses on the quality and safety characteristics of fresh-cut lettuce, more specifically Romaine and Iceberg lettuce. Over three years, different field trials were performed at an experimental farm run by Primaflor, an important lettuce growers in Europe. Different doses of irrigation water were used: 50 per cent and 25 per cent more water, 50 per cent and 25 per cent less water, and the regular amount.

The results show that using 25 per cent less irrigation water prolongs the storage period (shelf life), decreases browning on the cut edge of lettuce pieces, and preserves microbiological quality. The opposite effects were found when 25 per cent and 50 per cent more irrigation water was used.

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The study also demonstrated a cost reduction of just over $300 per hectare per year due to optimized water management.

The research is part of the European project Veg-i-Trade, which studies the possible impact of globalization and climate change on the food safety of fresh produce. The project is coordinated by the Department Food Safety and Food Quality of Ghent University (Belgium) and has partners from universities, research institutes, and large industrial partners in 10 different countries.