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There is not enough manure (or compost) to sustain agriculture

Posted by Andrew McGuire | October 18, 2017

There is not enough manure. Not enough to supply nutrients to our crops, not enough to maintain our soils. Those were the conclusions in my last two posts, but before we see what this means for agriculture, let’s look to other organic amendments. Is there enough of any of them?

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Can manure sustain soils?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 19, 2017

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. -Mary Astor

How much manure do you need to spread to maintain your soil’s organic matter? Photo: werktuigendagen via Wikimedia Commons

My first question about manure, “Can Manure Supply Nitrogen and Phosphorus to Agriculture?” was answered here. But manure is more than nutrients. The bulk of manure is organic material, the carbon that the primary-producer feed crop took from the air and built into organic molecules (hence the name “organic”). When added to the soil, some of this manure bulk ends up as soil organic matter.

Organic matter is a small but crucial portion of soil. If we can maintain a soil’s organic matter levels, we have gone a long way in maintaining soil health and function. Can manure do this? Can manure sustain soils?
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Can Manure Supply Nitrogen and Phosphorus to Agriculture?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 7, 2017

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. -Mary Astor

Manure, whether fresh, old, or composted, is often declared a key component of sustainable agriculture. From countless trials, researchers have come to similar conclusions (Haynes and Naidu 1998). Manure use is promoted as a solution in discussions of sustainable agriculture topics including: soil fertility, soil health, organic farmingregenerative farming, carbon sequestration, and renewable resources. However, I have questions. Not about the actual spreading of manure, or calculating application rates, but about manure’s role in sustaining agriculture. Is manure a sustainable source of nutrients? Is manure a sustainable organic soil amendment, able to build soil organic matter, store carbon in the soil, and so assist in reducing greenhouse gases? When is manure application a sustainable practice?

In my next few posts, I will answer these questions with the hope of putting manure in its proper role in sustaining agriculture. First, let’s look at the nutrient-supplying potential of manure. It all starts with figuring out where manure comes from. Read more »

A role for agricultural landscapes in conserving wildlife – Part 1

Posted by Andrew Shirk | August 17, 2017

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

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 »

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