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A role for agricultural landscapes in conserving wildlife – Part 1

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | August 17, 2017

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

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. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
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What have we learned about dryland cropping systems in the last 15 years?

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 »

Organic Farming Continues to Expand

Posted by David Granatstein | July 10, 2017

Organic hops, research trial of cover crops. Yakima Valley. Photo: D. Granatstein.

It’s hard for much to make the news other than politics these days.  But the world keeps on turning, we keep on eating, and growers keep trying to meet consumer demand. Two recent CSANR reports provide updates on organic trends – one on the organic sector in Washington State in general, and one specifically on organic tree fruit.

In 2016, demand for organic foods grew once again reaching a new high of $43 billion of retail sales in the U.S. Sales grew at 8.4% over the previous year, a bit lower than the 10-12% annual growth since 2009. Global organic food sales were estimated at $81.6 billion in 2015 (the most recent year); U.S. sales made up 48% of this, with Europe accounting for 39%. Sales in Asia reached 8% and have been steadily increasing. Details on global organic trends can be found at World of Organic Agriculture . The most recent national sales summary is at the Organic Trade Association. Read more »

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Drought and small revenues – do they always go hand in hand?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | June 5, 2017

The conditions the Northwest experienced in 2015 have received a lot of attention, because we saw drought even though precipitation was close to normal. So the drought was due to higher temperatures, which meant snow didn’t accumulate anywhere near as much as it does on average. With less water available for irrigation in summer (see our earlier articles on the 2015 drought here and here), we’d expected irrigated crops to suffer, and we’d also expect growers’ bottom line to suffer.

Drought (and other stresses) can have a significant impact on crop production—see this comparison of the size of an ear of corn in Missouri during the 2012 drought to its “normal” size (space between hands). The expectation is that decreases in production will lead to drops in revenue, but is that always the case? Photo: Malory Ensor/KOMU News under CC BY 2.0

But when the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Annual Statistical Bulletin for Washington State came out in October 2016, it was followed by an article in Capital Press discussing the apparent paradox that agricultural production values hit record highs in 2015, even though the region was under that newsworthy “snow drought.” Though I did not personally fact-check the Capital Press article, it’s an intriguing paradox. A presentation I heard at the recent (January 2017) Climate Impacts to Water Conference provided some insights. Ballav Aryal, a graduate student in the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University, presented research that highlighted two factors that might explain this apparent paradox. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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Farmer-to-Farmer Case Studies

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 1, 2017

Map of case study profile locations.

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 »

Attracting green lacewings to synthetic lures in apple orchards to manage pests

Posted by Vincent Jones | May 30, 2017

Featured BIOAg research: Spatial and temporal dynamics of attracting green lacewings to synthetic lures in apple orchards for pest suppression

Green lacewing. Photo: C. Baker

This BIOAg funded project focused on critical knowledge gaps in the use of plant volatiles as attractants for two different beneficial lacewing species (Chrysopa nigricornis and Chrysoperla plorabunda). The purpose was to investigate whether it was possible to manipulate the spatial distribution of natural enemies in agricultural systems to augment biological control in areas with large pest populations of woolly apple aphid (WAA). Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
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2017 BIOAg Grant Awards

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 25, 2017

Dave Crowder will investigate microbial mediation of disease resistance, pollinator attraction, and crop yield in apples. Photo: J & P Donaho, Flickr c.c.

We’ve arrived at the 10th year that CSANR has held a competitive process to select seed projects under the BIOAg Grant Program. This year’s selections bring us to a total of 91 funded project proposals, standard and integrated. The program is one key way that the Center achieves its goal of incubating research and educational activities that advance the sustainability of agriculture in the state. In addition, the program has supported a number of graduate students who have and will pursue careers in academia, industry and community leadership with a focus on sustainability. Read more »

Could predatory flies provide early season control of spotted wing drosophila in red raspberry?

Posted by Beverly Gerdeman | May 22, 2017

Featured BIOAg research: Potential for early season control of spotted wing drosophila by predatory flies (Scathophagidae) as a secondary benefit of manure amendments in red raspberry

Spotted wing drosophila on raspberry [male in focus (L), female out of focus (R)]. Photo: B. Gerdeman

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD), Drosophila suzukii, is considered the most important pest of soft fruit in Washington State. Current control methods require weekly insecticide applications, which are unsustainable. So far however, no effective biological controls have been identified. Large numbers of yellow dung flies were observed in a Whatcom County red raspberry field following an early spring manure application. This prompted an investigation into the potential of yellow dung flies to impact SWD populations by feeding on overwintering females returning to berry fields early spring.

Read more »

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Using the BioEarth Modeling Framework to Understand the Sources, Transport and Fate of Atmospheric Nitrogen in the Pacific Northwest

Posted by Liz Allen | May 18, 2017

Researchers: Serena Chung, John Harrison, Brian Lamb, and Tsengel Nergui

Widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and fossil fuel combustion have led to significant increases in reactive nitrogen emissions and deposition globally. Emissions are any transfer of nitrogen compounds from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere, while deposition describes transfer from the atmosphere back to the surface. Excess nitrogen is a serious environmental concern for many reasons including causing eutrophication of terrestrial and aquatic systems and contributing to global climate change. Within the Northwest, there are pressing questions about the degree to which agricultural practices contribute to excess nitrogen and its associated environmental consequences. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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Farm Incubator Programs in Higher Education

Posted by Alex Shih | May 11, 2017

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We have posted reflections written by the students over the past several months. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

2016 was an historic year for the annual Tilth Conference; for the first time this region-wide event was organized by two well-known and respected organizations in Washington State – Seattle Tilth and Tilth Producers of Washington. The recent merger of these two organizations under the new name, Tilth Alliance, is a large step toward building greater awareness and adoption of sustainable agriculture practices in the future. Congratulations! Read more »

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