Abiotic Stress Mitigation

Abiotic stress, one of the biggest risk factors for plant health and crop productivity, begins in the soil. Both natural and man-made forces stress soil, leading to worsened growing conditions and weaker plants. Abiotic stressors include drought, overheating, flooding, erosion, compaction, and contamination.

Drought is considered one of the most harmful conditions for crops. Without a healthy amount of moisture in the soil, plants are unable to grow to their full potential. Plants growing in drought conditions have smaller leaves and lighter shoot and seed weight, both in arid regions and irrigated regions. Drought is a worldwide problem, and every year 12 million hectares of soil—which have the potential to grow 20 million tons of grain—are lost to drought stress. As a result, a growing market to combat the adverse effects of drought is emerging.

abiotic stressThe opposite extreme, flooding, presents an equally harmful situation for soil health. Flooding or heavy precipitation decreases levels of oxygen in the soil, which prevents crops from growing to full health.  Erosion is also linked to flooding, as water removes essential nutrients from the soil.  An excess of water also leads to degradation of soil structure, which makes soil more susceptible to compaction, another factor of abiotic stress. Compaction, which can also be caused by the weight of heavy agricultural equipment, destroys soil structure by pushing particles of soil too close together, closing pore space that is important for infiltration and root growth.

Other abiotic stressors, like chemical and saline contamination of soil, routinely harm crops through their impact on soil degradation. In order to protect crops, steps must be taken to fortify soil so it can withstand the varied stressors it faces. Farmers can alter agricultural practices and add beneficial nutrients and fungi to the soil in order to strengthen the soil against abiotic stress.