IMG_1027color cropScience in Action to Improve the Sustainability of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Food Systems

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Perspectives on Sustainability - CSANR Blog

  • Can manure sustain soils?

    September 19, 2017

    Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. -Mary Astor

    How much manure do you need to spread to maintain your soil’s organic matter? Photo: werktuigendagen via Wikimedia Commons

    My first question about manure, “Can Manure Supply Nitrogen and Phosphorus to Agriculture?” was answered here. But manure is more than nutrients. The bulk of manure is organic material, the carbon that the primary-producer feed crop took from the air and built into organic molecules (hence the name “organic”). When added to the soil, some of this manure bulk ends up as soil organic matter.

    Organic matter is a small but crucial portion of soil. If we can maintain a soil’s organic matter levels, we have gone a long way in maintaining soil health and function. Can manure do this? Can manure sustain soils?

  • Can Manure Supply Nitrogen and Phosphorus to Agriculture?

    September 7, 2017

    Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. -Mary Astor

    Manure, whether fresh, old, or composted, is often declared a key component of sustainable agriculture. From countless trials, researchers have come to similar conclusions (Haynes and Naidu 1998). Manure use is promoted as a solution in discussions of sustainable agriculture topics including: soil fertility, soil health, organic farmingregenerative farming, carbon sequestration, and renewable resources. However, I have questions. Not about the actual spreading of manure, or calculating application rates, but about manure’s role in sustaining agriculture. Is manure a sustainable source of nutrients? Is manure a sustainable organic soil amendment, able to build soil organic matter, store carbon in the soil, and so assist in reducing greenhouse gases? When is manure application a sustainable practice?

    In my next few posts, I will answer these questions with the hope of putting manure in its proper role in sustaining agriculture. First, let’s look at the nutrient-supplying potential of manure. It all starts with figuring out where manure comes from.

  • A role for agricultural landscapes in conserving wildlife – Part 1

    August 17, 2017

    Andrew Shirk, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, co-authored this post with Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University.

    Conservation Reserve Program field in Douglas County, Washington. Photo: Michael Schroeder.

    Healthy ecosystems provide us with clean water, clean air, and rich soils, resources that help meet our needs and fuel our economies. They also support many wildlife species. If we can consider those animals as an indication of the state of these ecosystems, things look grim globally. We are losing species at least 100 times faster than what’s been the norm, based on the fossil record. Currently, 1 out of every 4 mammal species and 1 out of every 8 bird species is under threat of extinction, with more species becoming threatened each year. One of the main reasons for these grim numbers is loss of habitat, and growing crops on what was their habitat has contributed to that. But agriculture is also key to providing for our needs and fueling our economies. So can agricultural landscapes contribute to both food production and habitats? From our experience with Greater Sage-Grouse conservation in eastern Washington, we’d argue that the answer is yes.

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