Salinity in dryland agricultural systems: Challenges and opportunities

D. J. McFarlane, R. J. George, E. G. Barrett-Lennard, M. Gilfedder

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Dryland salinity is caused by a build-up of salts in the root zone of plants in non-irrigated areas to the extent that it affects plant growth. Salinity can have direct adverse effects on agricultural systems, but the mobilisation of salt from affected land often causes downstream impacts on water resources as well as the loss of associated infrastructure, environmental and social values. Dryland salinity is a problem in areas where internal (leaching) and external (runoff) drainage is unable to remove salts, which may come from several sources, commonly from rainfall or dryfall (wind-borne). Primary salinity occurs as a result of pedogenesis and within the context of geologic processes, while secondary salinity results from human-induced land uses change, such as clearing for agriculture. Dryland salinity is often associated with sodic soils and waterlogging. The combined effect of these problems on plants is often much greater than the sum of their individual impacts so addressing the problem that is most tractable can provide a partial solution. For example, it may be better to reduce surface waterlogging rather than to drain subsurface saline groundwater, especially if disposing the drainage water has additional impacts on rivers and downstream water resources. Dryland salinity results from increased recharge leading to the mobilisation of salts by groundwater at multiple-scales, something that occurs mainly at the local scale in irrigation salinity. A drying climate in parts of southern Australia in recent decades has reduced the perception of risk of dryland salinity, so that it has become a much lower priority for Government and some land managers. With further reductions in rainfall-recharge due to continued poleward shift of weather systems, this trend is expected to continue. This chapter outlines types and causes of dryland salinity as it affects agricultural land, its interactions with waterlogging, sodicity and other factors, and methods of management. The chapter has a focus on Australia which has over 2 M ha of affected land, more than half of which is in Western Australia, an area that has been experiencing a drying climate since about 1975. This experience is likely to be informative of areas not yet affected by climate change. The impacts of dryland salinity on stream salinity is an important topic but is not within our scope.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInnovations in dryland agriculture
EditorsMuhammad Farooq, Kadambot H.M. Siddique
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9783319479286
ISBN (Print)9783319479279
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2017


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