Potential of Plant Endophytes and minerals for the Yield and quality of spinach in a changing climate
Popeye is a collaborative research project (type ICON) in which three companies collaborate with a research partner to reach a common objective. The project focuses on the problem of cadmium in spinach. Cadmium is a non-essential trace element that is sometimes present in high levels in the soil due to the non-ferro metal industry or the use of phosphate fertilisers. Some leafy vegetables, such as spinach, can absorb cadmium from the soil. This project investigates how plant-associated micro-organisms or minerals can reduce the amount of cadmium that is absorbed by spinach.
Spinach is an important vegetable for industrial processing (freezing) and is grown in Belgium. Each year, harvested batches of spinach are destroyed for slightly exceeding the standard of cadmium in spinach. This represents a major economic loss for farmers and industry and is a major food waste. Innovative solutions with plant-associated micro-organisms, added via a seed coating or directly on the leaf, or via mineral soil additives offer the possibility to reduce the uptake of cadmium by the plant. In this project, various micro-organisms and minerals are screened as a possible solution to the problem, first in the lab and in pot trials in the greenhouse. The best candidates are further tested in the field to gain a better understanding of the techno-economic feasibility as an agricultural solution. UHasselt is investigating the mechanisms that micro-organisms use to have a certain beneficial effect for the plant, in this case a reduced absorption of cadmium. These insights can be further explored in the use of micro-organisms as new biological stimulants for a more qualitative crop yield, whether or not in combination with smart farming techniques. More mechanistic insight into the effect of mineral soil additives on crop yield and reduced cadmium uptake by spinach is also investigated. Finally, through a statistical data analysis of different fields, different soil types, different soil parameters and climatic data, knowledge is built up around unknown factors that allow a better estimate of the risk profile of a field for cadmium uptake by spinach. The project insights should lead to an integrated cost-benefit approach with innovative approaches that ensure that the cadmium level in spinach always remains below the standard.