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Ceres Develops Plant Trait for Salt Tolerance; Potential Use for Millions More Acres of Marginal Cropland

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. has developed a plant trait for salt tolerance that could bring millions of acres of abandoned or marginal cropland damaged by salts into use. Results in several crops, including switchgrass, have shown levels of salt tolerance not seen before.

Ceres reported that its researchers tested the effects of very high salt concentrations and also seawater from the Pacific Ocean, which contains mixtures of salts in high-concentration, on improved energy grass varieties growing in its California greenhouses. Energy grasses, such as sorghum, miscanthus and switchgrass, are highly productive sources of biomass, a carbon-neutral feedstock used for both biofuel production and electricity generation.

Today, we have energy crops thriving on seawater alone. The goal, of course, is not for growers to water their crops with seawater, but to enable cropland abandoned because of salt or seawater effects to be put to productive uses.

—Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO

Currently, there are more than one billion acres of abandoned cropland globally that could benefit from this trait and others in Ceres’ pipeline, including 15 million acres of salt-affected soils in the US. The company now plans to evaluate energy crops with its proprietary salt-tolerant trait at field scale. If results are confirmed, biofuel and biopower producers will have more choices for locating new facilities, gaining greater productivity on marginal land and displacing even greater amounts of fossil fuels.

Chief Scientific Officer Richard Flavell said that Ceres’ salt-tolerant trait could provide significant benefits to food production, too. In conventional plant breeding, breakthroughs in one crop have little bearing on another crop. However, by using techniques of modern biology to develop traits, researchers can duplicate this trait much more easily, and extend the benefits from energy to staple food crops.

Soils containing salt and other growth-limiting substances restrict crop production in many locations in the world. This genetic breakthrough provides new opportunities to overcome the effects of salt,” said Flavell. In food crops, Ceres has confirmed the trait in rice to date and is preparing additional testing in others.

Flavell believes that salt-tolerant crops need to be combined with better land and water management practices as well as with agronomic techniques that minimize salt build-up in the soil. Furthermore, like first-generation traits, plant traits developed by Ceres can be stacked together to revolutionize plant yields.

When we begin stacking together salt tolerance, drought tolerance and traits that allow plants to require less nitrogen fertilizer, we can deliver significant productivity and yield increases with fewer inputs than used in the first Green Revolution, as well as valuable increases on marginal or abandoned cropland that does not currently sustain economic yields.

—Richard Flavell



A very smart approach to produce extra energy feed stock without affecting food production potential.


This isn't perfect until sea water can be used. Otherwise fresh water tables will be depleted.


GdB I'm with you ...but it sounds like salt build up in the soil is the achilles heel of irrigating with seawater. Nonetheless, this sounds very exciting for both energy crops and food crops.


There is salt build up on irrigated lands over time. It is called "sodicity" where the build up of natural salts accumulate. That land could be used for this until the salts leach farther down into the soil.

fred schumacher

There a lot of highly alkaline soils on the Great Plains and Intermountain. Perhaps this research could yield possibilities for those areas.



These salt tolerant plants lower the water table which allows salt to recede from the surface layers.
This is the approach (using native salt bush etc ) that is being used to successfuilly desalinate Australia's
affected lands.


We see lots of stories here about different ideas, but until we all unite with ONE best set of ideas, we will all just be subject to what comes along. Many will say "somebody should do something" or "they will come up with something".

Our present system says that if something is not immensely profitable, we do not bother. We do not get behind and support a plan because it is the right thing to do. One day we may actually work together for the good of all, but until that day we will all be subject to whatever comes along.


Well said SJC. Profit (by all means) is still the major driving force in this country and it is often used to elect people that will support the continuum so that more profit will come. This is the basic model used for the last 4 centuries. It has fallen apart twice lately (1929 and 2007). The last fall is not over yet and may take another 10 years and many major changes to fix, as did the 1929 disaster. USA lost over 8.5 million jobs (in 2007-08-09) and recovered less than 850,000 (or about 10%) so far. With more and more manufacturing jobs being outsourced, the recovery will be much longer than many expected.


The 2007 crash was the final result of manipulation of the housing market, through fannie mae and freddie mac, thanks to chairman Barney Frank, "Countrywide" Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, and others. Yes, the drive for profits (by banks, developers, and property owners / real estate flippers) magnified the devastation (with foreclosures) as the real estate market crashed...but it can all be traced back to the pushing, prodding and encouragement of fannie and freddie by Frank, Dodd, Waters, et. al. If fannie and freddie always had tight lending standards (subprime loans were illegal, etc.), we wouldn't be in this position. The 1929 stock market crash, and subsequent "run on the banks" (everyone trying to get their money out of the banks at the same time) resulted in a massive number of bank failures and people and businesses losing all their savings and economic collapse.

I still support capitalism as the lesser of all evils to incentivize productivity. Capitalism still is the best path to prosperity - even though the profit motive and greed are a part of it. There is no other system better than capitalism which provides the same kinds of incentives for risk taking and working hard. Do I like it? No...but socialism (look at Greece) and communism (including Chinese capitalism-communism) are much worse systems of doing business. Does capitalism need responsible, tough oversight? Yes! But only to preserve fairness and justice, not to promote political ideologies (Frank, Waters, Dodd, et. al.).


No one is talking about capitalism versus socialism ejj, I am talking about best practices and ideas. A systematic approach has a better chance than just a patchwork of enterprises.


SJC - my previous post was aimed at HarveyD's last post.... ejj


Regardless of political system name - the real danger is totalitarianism. People operating in the background pulling puppet strings. The Obama puppet and Bush puppet, Merkle puppet and Jiabao puppet are the same.

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