Water availability and arable lands are increasingly limiting resources in many parts of the U.S., particularly in semi-arid and arid regions. As a means of addressing food and fuel demands associated with burgeoning population growth, highly productive and water-use efficient crops need to be identified. One potential crop, Agave, merits consideration and evaluation due to its putative capability to provide sustenance and energy despite growing in water-limited regions and on marginal soils. However, little is known regarding the productivity these succulent plants will have under growing conditions of the Southwest, where high concentrated saline soils are abundant, and water is often limited. The objectives of these studies were to determine the effects of high levels of salinity and different volumetric water content levels (VWC) on plant growth, biomass accumulation, and nutrient uptake. I used a hydroponic study to compare the effects of four salinity treatments (0.5, 3, 6, and 9 dS m-1) on productivity of four Agave species (Agave parryi, Agave utahensis ssp. kaibabensis, Agave utahensis ssp. utahensis, and Agave weberi). In a second study, an automated irrigation system was established to examine four pre-determined VWC threshold set-points and simulated a gradient of well-watered to drought conditions, to evaluate how A. weberi would respond to varying levels of water availability. Salinity concentrations did not significantly affect root and plant dry weight accumulation in A. weberi, but all other agave plants experienced less biomass accumulation under high saline conditions (>6 dS m-1). Seedlings of A. utahensis were two times more likely to die in the two highest saline treatments (6 and 9 dS m-1) than the two lower treatments (0.5 dS m-1 and 3 dS m-1). Calcium, Mg, S, Mn levels decreased in both A. parryi and A. weberi at higher salinity levels. Agave weberi was able to tolerate salinity, but it also experienced lower biomass production ≤3 dS m-1. In the water-stress study, Agave weberi plants experienced a decrease of 2.11 g as compared to plants in the highest treatment. Plants in the intermediate VWC treatments had similar dry mass values as those in the highest treatment, which suggests that this species could have moderately high yields under limited water conditions, and consequently should be evaluated as a potential bioenergy crop for semi-arid regions, such as the U.S. Southwest. Agave shows considerable potential to be grown in arid and semi-arid regions that are moderately high in salinity and have limited water availability. Indeed, the cultivation of Agave as a crop appears to be a viable option for many areas of the Southwest. While some of the Agave species evaluated were quite productive under moderate salt and water stress, it is uncertain if growth will be significantly reduced if under these stress conditions for periods longer than 3 months.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



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Agave, Agave parryi, Agave utahensis, Agave weberi, automated irrigation, drought stress, hydroponic, nutrient uptake, salt stress, volumetric water content, water-use efficiency