Five Uses of Radiation in Food and Agriculture

It’s common knowledge that radiation plays an important role in medicine and electricity generation but few realise how it helps provide our basic needs. In fact, one of the main objectives of the International Atomic Energy Agency when it was established was to promote the wider use of radioisotopes and radiation sources in agriculture.

Seed and Soil Sterilisation

Gamma radiation can be used to sterilise soil and seeds to eliminate pathogens, weeds, and insects, allowing for better germination and growth of crops. 

When exposed to a high dose of ionising radiation from a radioactive isotope like cobalt-60 or cesium 137, the seeds’ and soil’s bacteria, fungi, and viruses are killed. The intense energy from the gamma rays allows sterilisation without the use of heat or chemicals that can damage the quality of the seeds and soil.

How does this work? Seeds and soil are placed in a container and exposed to the radiation source. The amount of time required to sterilise depends on several factors, including the type of microorganisms present, the dose of radiation required to kill them, and the size and shape of the container. 

However, it’s important to note that gamma sterilisation can cause some damage. For example, if the seeds are exposed to high doses of radiation or if they are not properly stored after treatment, their viability and germination rate may reduce from sensitivity to environmental stresses, such as temperature fluctuations or moisture changes.

Food Preservation

Irradiation is a food preservation method that uses low doses of ionising radiation such as gamma rays, X-rays, or electron beams to kill bacteria, moulds, and other microorganisms that cause food spoilage.

Food irradiation is widely recognized by health and food safety organisations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as a safe and effective way to improve the safety and shelf life of food. 

Pest Control

Crop losses to insects are a problem of farmers and cultivators. Usually, they use insecticides for pest control and others use genetically modified crops. 

An alternative method is the use of radiation to control pests, such as mites and thrips, in agricultural crops. The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) rears large populations of insects that cannot produce offspring. It’s species-specific and has been proven effective in eradicating the screwworm in the southern USA, Mexico, and Central America and Panama. 

When insects are sterilised through irradiation using gamma or X-rays and are introduced into natural populations, pest management becomes easier.

Crop Yield and Quality Improvement

Radiation in plant mutation breeding has been used for several decades. By exposing the seeds or cuttings of a plant to radiation, they can produce the desired traits like resistance to disease, pests, or environmental stress. This improves yields and can stabilise global food production.

Overall, plant mutation through radiation is a valuable tool but it must be carefully controlled and monitored to ensure that the benefits of the process outweigh any potential risks like negative effects on the plant’s growth or fertility.

Determining Required Crop Water

Radiation can be used to measure the water content of crops, which is an important factor in determining crop water requirements (CWR). The CWR is the depth of water needed by the crop growing in large fields to achieve full production potential within a certain growing environment.

The method used is called crop evapotranspiration (ET) measurement. They place a sensor in the field near the crop, and it measures the amount of energy that is being emitted from the crop and the surrounding soil. This emitted energy is related to the amount of water that is being lost from the crop through transpiration and evaporation. 

Once they determine the amount of water lost, they can now estimate the amount that will maintain the growth and health of the crop. It optimises irrigation schedules, adding convenience to the whole growing process.

Radiation Monitoring in Agriculture

Overall, radiation plays an important role in agriculture by helping to improve the productivity and quality of crops and food products, and by reducing waste and spoilage. If properly monitored, the radiation used in crops and our food remains safe for our health. Radiation monitors can be used to ensure that the dose used in food irradiation or plant mutation is within the recommended limits. 

Aside from that, radiation monitors can also be used to measure and monitor exposure to natural sources of ionising radiation, such as cosmic radiation or naturally occurring radioactive isotopes in soil. It helps in assessing the potential impact of radiation on crop growth and health, and in determining additional measures that you might need, such as shielding or relocation of crops.

Looking for area radiation monitors or personal radiation monitoring devices? You can count on SensaWeb. With our monitors, you can easily detect and interdict radioactive materials. 

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