Improving Human Health by Use of Micronutrients in Fertilisers: Benefits of Agronomic Biofortification Discussed in Turkey

The Turkish Harvest Zinc and Iodine event was organized in Eskişehir, Anatolia at the Osmangazi University on the 20th April 2017. The days header was "Zinc and Iodine, from the soil to the grain, from the grain to human health". On behalf of SQM and Doktor Tarsa, dr Katja Hora, Ali Çetin Karakaya and Ilker Kaan Ulusoy attended this day, by invitation of Professor Ismail Çakmak, coordinator of the global Harvest Zinc and Iodine program at Sabanci University in Istanbul. More than 200 farmer representatives, agronomists, researchers and government officials attended this event. After an opening address on the importance of balanced diets to improve public health by the governor of Eskişehir, Sayın Azmi Çelik, a number of Turkish professors in agronomy and human health explained how use of micro-nutrient containing fertilisers can improve both yield of cereals and improve public health by prevention of zinc and iodine deficiencies in people. The day ended with a panel discussion and a plea to the representatives of the Turkish agricultural ministry to find incentives for farmers to improve the (micro-)nutrient content of their produce.

Figure 1. Field trials in Anatolia where zinc and iodine containing fertilisers are planned to be tested for their potential to improve zinc and iodine concentration in the grains.

The Harvest Zinc and Iodine fertiliser project is building on historical trials that have provided fundamental insights on prevention of zinc deficiency in crops today, conducted under the leadership of Dr. Müfit Kalayci at the Transitional Zone Agricultural Research Institute in Eskişehir. This year, new trials are conducted at this institute under the flag of the Harvest Zinc and Iodine fertiliser project.

Figure 2. Prof. Dr Ismail Çakmak introducing agronomic biofortification with zinc and iodine as an effective tool to prevent micronutrient deficiencies in both crops and humans.

Wheat growing is a challenge on the central plateau of Anatolia, with cold winters (- 20°C is not unusual), and very little rain that comes in a short time: Not more than 350 mm/yr is expected, and most of it around May, with severe drought in July, August and September. Winter wheat is grown from October to May/June, attaining average maximal yields of 3.5-4 MT. To save water, a fallow year system is practiced: fields are only cultivated every second year, the other year the land is not cultivated, with the top soil mulched to prevent water from evaporating.

Figure 3. Lack of seats in the presentation room with an audience of more than 200 people, including government officials, university staff, students, farmer representatives and agronomists.

The calcareous soil is alkaline (pH 7) and zinc deficient. Fertilisation with zinc has been investigated in the area since 1960. Zinc applications can been seen to increase yields with 30-50%, and it is now common practice for the farmers in the region to apply zinc.

Figure 4. From left to right: Dr Katja Hora, Dr Müfit Kalayci, Ali Çetin Karakaya and Ilker Kaan Ulusoy before the Osmanagazi University.

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