Do Soils Need a Low-Salt Diet?


High levels of salt can damage soil microbes and plants.

Doctors often tell their patients to reduce their salt intake as part of a healthy lifestyle. When we start looking at food labels, we may find salt in surprising places – like baked goods, drinks and canned foods.

While you may try to keep an eye on your personal salt intake, you have probably never given much thought to how much salt there is in the soil under your feet. As many people are finding salt creeping into their diets, scientists are seeing increased levels of salt in water sources.

“There is a significant increase in salinity in freshwater systems, including water used for irrigation,” explains Meredith Steele. Steele is an Assistant Professor of Urban Ecosystems and Watershed Biogeochemistry at Virginia Tech.

Steele thought if there is salt in irrigation water, there might be a buildup of salt in soil. High levels of salt can damage soil microbes and plants. Most research on soil salinity has focused on these situations. Steele wondered if small amounts of salt could change the chemistry or biology of soils. 

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