Stepping back: What have we learned about agriculture and climate change, and where do we go from here?
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | November 29, 2017
As a number of large climate-and-agriculture projects at our Pacific Northwest universities have come to an end over the last year, we felt it was time to step back and take stock. Our projects have included dryland wheat farming, anaerobic digestion systems for dairies, and improving understanding of the interactions among carbon, nitrogen, and water at the regional scale. Now that they are complete, what have we learned? Where should research and extension go from here? In an effort to prioritize and catalyze future regional research and extension efforts, we worked with partners to host a workshop titled “Agriculture in a Changing Climate” (March 9-11, 2016). The event brought together a diverse set of stakeholders—university faculty and students, crop and livestock producers, and individuals representing state, tribal and federal government agencies, industry, nonprofit organizations, and conservation districts—to summarize what we know, identify challenges and gaps, and define priorities for moving forward. Since that workshop, a group of us have been working together to continue to synthesize recent research findings and identify priorities related to climate mitigation and adaptation in the Northwest, and the product of that work is now freely available as an online article. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | July 13, 2017
Dryland crops are a common sight east of the Cascades, and cover a LOT of acreage in the Pacific Northwest – more than 5.8 million acres according to recent statistics. Over the last three years, a group of us at CSANR have had the privilege of working with more than 40 co-authors (!) from our region’s three land grant universities – WSU, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University – and from USDA Agricultural Research Service to summarize the most up-to-date scientific knowledge about our region’s dryland systems. That work has now been published as a book, Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest. With touchstone chapters on climate considerations (which has always played a predominant role in determining what crops can be grown) and soil health, this wide-ranging book has chapters on conservation tillage systems, residue management, crop intensification and diversification, soil fertility management, soil amendments, precision agriculture, weeds, diseases, and insects, and policy. We invite you to explore the books many chapters online here or download the entire book as a PDF. If you know you will want to read this book and refer to it over time, you can also receive a free printed version as long as funds allow, by ordering here. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 1, 2017
Successful farmers are skilled at coping with risk, from weather to markets, and a variety of other factors. So to answer the question, “what practices might best help our region’s farmers adapt to climate change?” we went straight to the source. Our region is home to many accomplished farmers who are pioneering a range of new farming practices that improve sustainability, enhance resilience, and are likely to be helpful in adapting to climate change. Their farming practices include reducing and eliminating tillage; diversifying crop rotations; integrating livestock and cover cropping into dryland wheat rotations; and working with partners in their communities to address water related issues. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | March 8, 2017
Over the last three years, we have compiled annual reports in order to better share our accomplishments and reach out to our stakeholders – but I also find that the process powerfully reminds me why it’s such an incredible privilege to work at CSANR, an organization which brings together an incredible range of perspectives and expertise within and outside the university, to make progress towards more sustainable agricultural and food systems in our state.
Filed under Sustainability
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | December 16, 2016
Organic matter – the organic component of soil – is key to soil health. Organic matter serves as a reservoir of nutrients for crops, provides soil aggregation, increases nutrient exchange, retains moisture, reduces compaction, reduces surface crusting, and increases water infiltration into the soil. And organic matter is closely related to soil organic carbon, the carbon stored in organic matter. Soils with high levels of organic matter have higher levels of carbon, and consequently also benefit the climate by “sequestering” carbon that otherwise would be in the atmosphere.
In the rain-fed croplands of the Pacific Northwest, wheat-based agriculture has historically mined carbon out of the soil. Near Pendleton, winter wheat grown every other year depleted soil organic carbon up to 63% over 80 years of cultivation. Re-building soil carbon is thus an important task for supporting continued agricultural productivity across the region. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | November 21, 2016
WSU Extension is hosting an upcoming workshop on the basics of High Residue Farming on November 30, 2016, 9:30-3:30 in Moses Lake. Details for those interested in attending are available here (lunch included if you pre-register by 11/22).
High residue farming is a term that covers a number of different specific farming practices, including strip-till and direct seeding. In all these systems, the amount of tillage is reduced in order to maintain crop residues on the soil surface. High residue farming provides a number of benefits, but two key ones include reducing wind erosion (and the need to replant sand-blasted crops) and reducing the amount of time and equipment needed to plant. It can also improve soil health, increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, and in some cases increase the potential for double-cropping. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | August 16, 2016
Biosolids? Yes, that means sewage sludge. Well, sort of. But before you say YUCK and click off the page, let’s start with what they really are: biosolids are the materials produced from digestion of sewage at city wastewater treatment plants. They are rich in plant nutrients such as organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, and can be applied to wheat, alfalfa, and timber land for plant fertilization and soil conditioning. When biosolids are applied at rates that meet plant nutrient needs, farmers and researchers are seeing crop yields equal to or greater than those seen with synthetic fertilizer. Applying biosolids as fertilizer also allows them to be recycled for a useful purpose rather than disposed of in landfills or incinerated.
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | March 8, 2016
At this point, we have learned quite a bit about the likely implications of climate change for agriculture. A couple of good summaries of national implications and likely impacts in the Pacific Northwest are good places to start, if you want to get more detail.
Though significant questions remain, it’s clear that producers across our region will need to adapt to warmer and drier summers, warmer winters, and changes in when irrigation water is available. But what does that adaptation look like? That’s the question we asked when we started the “Farmer-to-Farmer” case study series. We wanted to know what strategies forward-thinking farmers in our region are already using, that could enhance resilience in the face of climate change. And we wanted to look at strategies across a number of production systems in the Pacific Northwest—dryland and irrigated cropping systems, beef production, and dairies. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | September 29, 2015
As this hot, dry summer winds down across Washington State, many areas are continuing to struggle with the impacts of drought. (Those who would like a recap of August weather and drought conditions can see the WSU Drought Report here.)
Unfortunately, while the weather has become more fall-like, with welcome rain in some areas, all climate indicators point towards increased chance of warmer and somewhat drier than normal conditions through mid-2016 – as shown in the three month forecast from the Climate Prediction Center (see the maps below). Indicators consistent with this forecast include recent observations of a strong El Niño, forecasts of an 85% or greater likelihood of El Niño persisting through next spring, and a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) signal. Together, this all points to a likelihood of reduced snowpack this winter – and limited water availability again next summer and fall. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | May 15, 2015
Those of us who have been watching the drought conditions in the Yakima Watershed of Eastern Washington got a welcome bit of news on Wednesday: significant precipitation. Cliff Mass, from the University of Washington, did a nice job of summarizing the latest, and explaining why it’s such a lucky break, in this blog post.
For those who don’t follow water rights issues in the state regularly, it may help to know that the Roza Irrigation District is among the more vulnerable agricultural water users under drought conditions, as their water rights are junior to others in the Yakima (and under Washington State water law, more senior water rights have priority when there’s a water shortage). On May 11, after receiving a forecast from the Bureau of Reclamation that they (and other junior water rights holders) would get only 47% of their water supply this year, the Roza Irrigation District decided to shut down water use for at least two weeks, with the possibility of extending to three. This was done to save water for late August and September, in an attempt to avoid permanent damage to perennial crops such as fruit trees. You can read more about that decision in an article in the Yakima Herald here. Read more »
Filed under Climate Change
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