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What progress is the Lab making on food security?

Our science question of the month.
July 2, 2018
Picture of green chile

Food security is important around the world whether related to wheat, rice, apples, or even our regionally beloved chile.

Food security effects national security.

Some might wonder why the Laboratory is invested in an issue like food security. In fact, there are multiple reasons we are involved:

1) Our country recognizes that crop failure anywhere in the world can lead to instability, political and otherwise, which is why the Food Security Act of 2016 includes:

According to the January 2014 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community”—

   (A) the lack of adequate food will be a destabilizing factor in countries important to US national security that do not have the financial or technical abilities to solve their internal food security problems''; and

   (B) food and nutrition insecurity in weakly governed countries might also provide opportunities for insurgent groups to capitalize on poor conditions, exploit international food aid, and discredit governments for their inability to address basic needs''.

As such, food becomes a national security issue.

2) It is also important for the Laboratory to support economic development within Northern New Mexico. Due to changing weather patterns, local growers struggle because winters have become warmer and frosts have started coming later in the year, when plants are not prepared for them.

Without scientific data, farmers have historically relied on outdated standards to protect their crops, which can actually result in more damage than protection.

For example, research has showed us that the practice of burning small fires to heat the general area near plants results in two negative outcomes: not only is the heat exhausted to the atmosphere, but resulting currents actually draw in colder air at a lower level, causing an opposite effect than the one wanted.

We also know that under the right conditions, spraying plants with water can help them prevent losses associated with frost damage. At first that answer might seem counterintuitive, but we have found it actually works.

As we develop and refine these processes and techniques at the local level, the applications are available to scientists, growers, and people worldwide.

Tirtha Banerjee, Computational Earth Science

Occasionally questions are sent in to edu-bsm@lanl.gov or are left in our feedback box in the Museum.

We work to provide answers to these questions on our blog and the site where we list our favorite questions and answers.