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Perspectives on Sustainability - CSANR Blog

  • New Ideas for Improving the Resilience of Semi-Arid Systems

    March 15, 2018

    Karen Hills and CSANR Associate Director, Georgine Yorgey co-wrote this post.

    Dryland areas are historically used for wheat production. Photo: USDA, ARS.

    Across the dryland areas of the inland Pacific Northwest, soil erosion and the use of near monocultures of wheat have long been serious sustainability challenges, ones that we have been working on for decades, including over the last seven years through regional collaborations. Reducing or eliminating tillage has been one important strategy for reducing erosion across the region in recent decades.  Improving diversity by including crops such as canola, peas, chickpea and quinoa in rotations is another approach, but across the inland Pacific Northwest from 2007-2014, 53% of dryland crop acreage was used for winter or spring wheat, while an additional 31% was fallow (meaning that to preserve moisture for the following crop, no crop was grown) (Kirby, E. et al., 2017).

  • Green Manures, The Other GM crops

    March 13, 2018

    Green manures have a lot in common with the other kind of GM crops (GMOs), though there are also some differences. Both green manures and GM crops produce pesticides in their plant cells, yet green manures are completely unregulated. Both are “unnatural” uses of crops, yet nobody argues about green manures. Conventional farmers use green manures, but unlike GM crops, so do organic farmers. Green manures require tillage, but GM crops make no-till easier. Monsanto and other multinational seed companies do not produce GM green manure crops, but they should.

    If brown manures are livestock-processed crop biomass, then green manures are their raw, unprocessed predecessors. A green manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while still green. Unlike brown manures, the biomass is grown in place and is used in place with no transport costs.

  • Crop residue–Help or hindrance?

    January 25, 2018

    The production of crop residue varies dramatically across the Inland Pacific Northwest, with estimated residue production for winter wheat ranging from roughly 0.9 ton/acre in the drier grain-fallow cropping system (Figure 1) to 8.5 ton/acre in the wetter annual crop system, which has enough precipitation to support cropping every year. Crop residues are often seen as simply something to “manage” so that they don’t impede future plantings or as a byproduct that can be sold to help improve the bottom line. However, while editing chapters for the recently released publication Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I was introduced to another way to think about these residues in the chapter in that publication titled “Crop Residue Management.” The lead author, Haiying Tao from Washington State University, and her co-authors make the interesting point that crop residues should be seen as a valuable resource and that there’s an important tradeoff that should be considered before exporting them from the farm. Residues not only serve a critical role in protecting soils from wind and water erosion between crops, they also add carbon and nutrients back to the soil, improving soil health and helping to maintain its productivity over time.