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
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | 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. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | July 2, 2014
There are a number of sustainability issues getting a fair amount of attention these days: climate change, regional and local food systems, and soil health, to name a few. While this is obviously good, there are also issues that may be getting somewhat less attention than they deserve. And closing the nutrient loop is one of these. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 17, 2014
If you are interested in ensuring that farming is climate friendly you are likely to start thinking about nitrous oxide (N2O). Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas (298 times as powerful as carbon dioxide, over a 100-year time frame). And nitrous oxide from agricultural soils is the single biggest contributor to agriculture’s direct greenhouse gas emissions, as estimated through inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. In Washington State, it was estimated that nitrous oxide from soils accounted for 46% of direct greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2008.1 However, these estimates rely on “default” assumptions about nitrous oxide emissions that were developed from global data – and a review of existing experimental data in our region suggests these defaults may not be appropriate in our region. Read more »
Posted by Georgine Yorgey | April 23, 2013
Agriculture is a seasonal endeavor. And so the weather during each season can profoundly impact farmers and the crops they produce. Now, researchers at University of Idaho and Oregon State University are providing some new insights on how the seasonal climate has changed over the last century in the PNW, and how it might change over the next 50 years. Read more »
Filed under Climate Change
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