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Perspectives on Sustainability - CSANR Blog

  • Precision nitrogen can benefit both farmers and the climate

    October 21, 2014

    In a previous post, I explained that available evidence currently indicates nitrous oxide emissions may be fairly low in the inland Pacific Northwest, compared to other cropland agricultural systems in the U.S. and world. If ongoing research confirms these early results, then I suggested that efforts to reduce nitrous oxide emissions need to focus on strategies that offered strong co-benefits.

  • Agriculture Requires Fertilizer Inputs, and That’s Good

    October 16, 2014
    Harvest is an export of nutrients.  Photo: S. Bauer, USDA

    Harvest is an export of nutrients.
    Photo: S. Bauer, USDA

    On a brown, August-dry field in Eastern Washington, a farmer in a combine cuts a 24-foot swath across a field of wheat. The harvested grain then begins a journey, first to the storage bin, then to the local elevator, on rail to a flour mill, by truck to a bakery, by oven to bread, and by car to a home where it is eaten. This is good; our foremost mandate to agriculture is to produce food. However, with this successful export of food from farm fields to nearby and distant cities comes a problem: the nutrients in the bread, the nutrients that we need from food, and that plants need to grow, are now far from the field they came from. How do we replace them?

    High yields, which we want, increase the problem.  A typical irrigated winter wheat field will yield 140 bushels per acre; about 5,600 loaves of bread. For a center pivot circle of 100 acres, the nutrients in those loaves amount to 182 pounds of N, 70 of P2O5 and 49 of K2O and smaller amounts of other essential nutrients that do not have to be replaced every year. All this ends up somewhere else (in people’s bodies or in sewage treatment plants); it will not be returned to the field1.

  • Is PNW warming human caused or not? Does it matter to agriculture?

    September 29, 2014

    The observed temperature records of the US Pacific Northwest show a small, but statistically significant amount of warming of just over 1 degree F since the year 1900. A paper published in March of this year by Abatzaglou, Rupp and Mote (2014) used a multiple linear regression model to “tease out” the contributions of different influences on climate and “to apportion trends to internal climate variability, solar variability, volcanic aerosols, and anthropogenic forcing [a.k.a. human greenhouse gas emissions]”. Unsurprisingly, the finding of this study was as expected:

    Anthropogenic forcing was a significant predictor of, and the leading contributor to, long-term warming; natural factors alone fail to explain the observed warming.

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