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How Will Climate Change Affect the Use of Fallow in Cropping Systems in Our Region?

Posted by Karen Hills | June 21, 2018
Wheat residue on dry field

Wheat residue on field near Ritzville, Washington, which is part of the a grain-fallow cropping system. (Photo: D. Kilgore)

In non-irrigated areas that are too dry to support annual cropping, fallow (the practice of leaving land unplanted) preserves soil moisture for future crops. However, annual fallow combined with conventional tillage has resulted in a net decrease in soil carbon over time in our region, with negative impacts to soil health across large areas. And even when tillage is eliminated, it is very difficult to maintain soil carbon over time in a wheat-fallow system.  For this reason, the impact of climate change on the frequency of fallow in crop rotations has important future implications both for soil health and for opportunities for carbon sequestration.

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True Cost Accounting

Posted by Anne Schwartz | June 18, 2018

Anne Schwartz is a long-time CSANR Advisory Committee member, former Tilth Producers of Washington president, proprietor of Blue Heron Farm, and lifelong advocate for sustainable agriculture.  Anne is a guest blogger, challenging College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences faculty, and CSANR faculty in particular, to focus on and address the challenges of True Cost Accounting.

Anne Schwartz holding bunches of radishes

Anne Schwartz

True Cost Accounting is the study in economics that addresses all of the upstream and downstream costs and benefits associated with a set of management decisions and ensuing practices, and their long-term impacts on natural resources and communities.  Other terms used to indicate a similar approach include: Full Cost Accounting (FCA), Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), Triple Bottom Line (TBL), Natural Capital Accounting (NCA), and Cradle to Cradle (C2C). Read more »

Calculating Climate Benefits for Climate Smart Farms

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 14, 2018
Dale Gies near silos

Farmer and long-time CSANR advisory committee member, Dale Gies. Photo: S. Kantor.

What are the climate impacts of a given farm practice?  While we know lots of strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on farms, quantifying that impact can be difficult.  However, there is at least one farm in our region –one that uses some pretty neat practices – for which scientists have attempted to answer that question.  And the farmer just happens to be a long-time member of CSANR’s advisory committee, Dale Gies. Read more »

Turning Urban Wood Waste into Biochar

Posted by Karen Hills | June 11, 2018

Biochar as a soil amendment has been the subject of much attention in recent years because of its ability to sequester carbon and to improve aggregation, water holding capacity, and organic matter content of soil amended with it (Lehmann, 2007; Marris, 2006). A recent article on the Ag Climate Network blog from our colleagues at Oregon State University discusses what’s needed to economically produce forest to farm biochar. In contrast, researchers at Washington State University are investigating what we could call waste to farm biochar. Waste to farm biochar, if deployed on a larger scale, could offer a two-part benefit – removal of wood from the municipal solid waste stream and creation of a valuable product from this wood. In recent work, researchers are looking at two possible wastes that could be made into biochar: wood-based fractions of municipal solid waste and the large woody material remaining after compost production—referred to as “compost overs.” Read more »

New publication tackles approaches to nutrient recovery from dairy manure

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 7, 2018

Low angle of dairy cattle in feed aisle

Building on our long-term efforts relating to dairy nutrient management, we now have a new publication that summarizes the various approaches being explored for nutrient recovery on dairies – and what we know about the current costs and performance that are associated with each strategy.  The publication, Approaches to Nutrient Recovery from Dairy Manure, was a long term effort by Craig Frear (formerly of CSANR), Jingwei Ma, and Georgine Yorgey (CSANR). This publication is a companion to The Rationale for Recovery of Phosphorus and Nitrogen from Dairy Manure.

CSANR has worked in the field of dairy waste nutrient recovery for a number of years.  Please visit our Anaerobic Digestion topic page for additional publications, videos, and resources, as well as our Anaerobic Digestion Systems project page for specifics on our work.

Cryptic Species, Agriculture, and Confirmation Bias

Posted by Andrew McGuire | May 31, 2018
Australian minnows under water

Australian minnows, or Mountain Galaxias, part of a 15-species cryptic hyper-complex. Photo: CC http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3677

Imagine this. You are an avid fisherman in south-eastern Australia. You relish getting away to the many lakes in the nearby mountains. Each lake is a bit different, different surroundings, different fishing holes, but you always see the same minnows, or perhaps two species as you heard a ranger say at a campfire talk, “based on expert taxonomic assessment.” You call them brown minnows, some call them mountain galaxias. They seem common, normal; but we see not as a minnow sees, but with human eyes and thoughts.

In 2012, a group of Aussie scientists (Adams et al. 2014) made a discovery: the minnows from the different lakes that look the same to you, are actually 15 distinct species. What was thought to be one or two species before, even by simple DNA tests, became 15 species with more comprehensive genetic testing (“involving multi-locus nDNA markers”). Organisms such as these minnows, which look very similar, even identical by most standards, but are different species are called cryptic species. A group of these is called a cryptic complex of species. Because of the high number of minnow species, this case is raised to the “hyper-cryptic complex” status. Read more »

2017 In Review

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | April 19, 2018

WSU CSANR '17 Annual Report cover image including enlarged wheat as background and many small agricultural images including raspberries, a tractor in a field, a pile of carrots, a child drinking water from a hose, etc.2017 was an incredibly busy and productive year for us at CSANR, and I’m pleased to be able to share some of what we accomplished through our 2017 annual report (.pdf). Among the highlights:

  • Laura Lewis was named the leader of the new WSU Food Systems Program, and Kirti Rajagopalan joined us as an assistant research professor to co-lead our evolving work on climate and water resources.
  • Marcy Ostrom and David Granatstein co-taught a graduate-level Agroecology class.
  • We funded 9 BIOAg projects led by WSU colleagues, including projects to: increase legume nodulation for improved symbiotic nitrogen fixation (Mike Kahn); evaluate the impact of border vegetation patterns on blueberries (Lisa DeVetter); and explore sustainable crop-livestock integration in the dryland areas of the inland Pacific Northwest (Haiying Tao).

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Filed under Food Systems, Sustainability
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Regenerative Agriculture: Solid Principles, Extraordinary Claims

Posted by Andrew McGuire | April 4, 2018

What is regenerative agriculture? Why is it different from sustainable agriculture? And how do I reconcile what practitioners of this system are claiming with the scientific evidence? These were all going through my mind when, a couple weeks ago at an advisory committee meeting of the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, we watched a YouTube video of Gabe Brown’s TEDx talk in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Brown farms near Bismarck, ND, and has become the American face of regenerative agriculture in the past decade. Here is what I learned. Read more »

New Ideas for Improving the Resilience of Semi-Arid Systems

Posted by Karen Hills | March 15, 2018

Karen Hills and CSANR Associate Director, Georgine Yorgey co-wrote this post.

Wheat field under blue skies with scattered white clouds

Dryland areas are historically used for wheat production. Photo: USDA, ARS.

Across the dryland areas of the inland Pacific Northwest, soil erosion and the use of near monocultures of wheat have long been serious sustainability challenges, ones that we have been working on for decades, including over the last seven years through regional collaborations. Reducing or eliminating tillage has been one important strategy for reducing erosion across the region in recent decades.  Improving diversity by including crops such as canola, peas, chickpea and quinoa in rotations is another approach, but across the inland Pacific Northwest from 2007-2014, 53% of dryland crop acreage was used for winter or spring wheat, while an additional 31% was fallow (meaning that to preserve moisture for the following crop, no crop was grown) (Kirby, E. et al., 2017). Read more »

Green Manures, The Other GM crops

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 13, 2018

logo that reads Green Manures with yellow arcs, green triangles pointing upward and brown triangles pointing downwardGreen manures have a lot in common with the other kind of GM crops (GMOs), though there are also some differences. Both green manures and GM crops produce pesticides in their plant cells, yet green manures are completely unregulated. Both are “unnatural” uses of crops, yet nobody argues about green manures. Conventional farmers use green manures, but unlike GM crops, so do organic farmers. Green manures require tillage, but GM crops make no-till easier. Monsanto and other multinational seed companies do not produce GM green manure crops, but they should.

If brown manures are livestock-processed crop biomass, then green manures are their raw, unprocessed predecessors. A green manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while still green. Unlike brown manures, the biomass is grown in place and is used in place with no transport costs. Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
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