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Increasing Nutrient Density of Food Crops Through Soil Fertility Management and Cultivar Selection

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Stockbridge School of Agriculture
Project Description: 

The topic of nutrient density in food crops has been active among consumers, producers and the scientific community in recent years. Literature on food composition demonstrates that the mineral nutrient density of vegetables has fallen in the past 50 years. This decline is associated with two factors: declines in soil fertility and with the genetics of plant cultivars that accumulate yield at higher rates than they accumulate mineral nutrients. This research is intended to help develop systems of food crop production that will supply adequate mineral nutrition to people directly through crop-derived foods. Nutrient-dense crops provide an opportunity for vegetable producers to diversify production and marketing and to increase income and profitability. A strong research and education effort focused on the current challenges faced in our region will contribute to the long-term viability of vegetable crops farms. This research is motivated by the critical situation of potential malnutrition of the public due to nutrient deficiencies in food crops. The project will address concerns of farmers about the suitability of modern hybrids or heritage varieties for certain crop production systems. Some growers are concerned whether modern varieties of vegetables are suitable for organic agriculture since organic farming is based on traditional systems. This research will address matching of crop varieties with soil fertility systems. The project goals are:

  • to educate farmers in adopting soil fertility practices and crop cultivars to produce healthful (nutrient-dense) vegetable crops,
  • to enhance the marketability of these crops, and
  • to educate the public about the health benefits of nutrient-dense foods.

Vegetable crop producers will benefit from this research. Farmers will be able to grow crops that are highly marketable and will learn more effective soil fertility practices and marketing strategies. High-nutrient-density crops could be differentiated from other crops in the marketplace and may yield a marketing advantage for growers and processors of these foods. The United States Department of Agriculture has funding programs to promote organic agriculture and production of specialty crops. This project addresses both of those areas.