Study sends tendrils out for desert agriculture

Farmers growing peppers (capsicums) organically can save up to two-thirds the usual quantity of water needed by letting a common fungus grow alongside the vegetables, a new study in the Arava desert has found. The study found that the symbiotic mycorrhiza fungus - commonly found growing among the roots of plants in the wild - acts like an enhanced extension of the peppers' own roots, increasing their capacity to absorb water and minerals from the soil and reducing the need to irrigate and fertilize them, reports According to the report, the study was carried out at the Arava's Yair station by the Central and North Arava Research and Development Organization together with the Volcani Institute. The researchers found that the fungus grew into and around the roots of the peppers, increasing their surface area and enabling extra water to be absorbed into the plants. In addition, the fungus broke down and absorbed minerals in the surrounding soil, making them available to the vegetables. The study found that the fungus enabled the peppers to grow well in conditions that would normally be too dry and too poor in minerals for them, without the addition of compost or other fertilizers and with only a third of the quantity of water normally needed to produce such a harvest. The report said the fungus could increase the return on an average 45-dunam field of peppers by some NIS 315,000. The Central and North Arava Research and Development Organization will hold an exhibition of new desert agricultural technologies and new plant, flower and spice species on February 4 and 5. Entry is free of charge.