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The Benefits of Combining Organic and Synthetic Nitrogen Sources

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 26, 2016

Dan Sullivan, OSU soil scientist, caught my attention during his presentation at the 2014 Building Soils for Better Crops workshop. Speaking about organic amendments and how to use them for both building soils and for nutrient supply to crops, Sullivan suggested that low nutrient organic amendments, like compost or composted manures, be used in combination with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. This combo, he said, has benefits over the use of either by itself.

Wheat could benefit from a combination of organic and synthetic nitrogen sources. Photo: USDA ARS

Wheat could benefit from a combination of organic and synthetic nitrogen sources. Photo: USDA ARS

The decomposition that produces compost reduces its nutrient content and stabilizes it. Because it has decomposed some, more of it will end up as soil organic matter than with fresh organic materials. When compost is applied to a field, it will continue to decompose slowly – faster as the soil warms up – releasing a slow stream of nitrogen into the soil solution.  If the compost is being used as a nitrogen source, this flow of nitrogen often cannot keep up with crop demand. One option is to use organic materials with higher amounts of available nitrogen, but these are very expensive; I found a liquid hydrolyzed fish product that could be applied through irrigation water, but it cost $17.76 per pound of nitrogen, over 20 times the price of synthetic fertilizer nitrogen. At this price, these materials make economic sense only for very high value organic crops. This is most likely why organic wheat, a lower value crop than organic vegetables or fruit, produces less grain with lower protein content than wheat produced with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (Seufert et al., 2012).

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Join us – The future of water in the Columbia River Basin

Posted by Chad Kruger | June 13, 2016
Wanapum Dam at normal operation on the Columbia River (photo: Dept of Ecology)

Wanapum Dam at normal operation on the Columbia River (photo: Dept of Ecology)

Water is the life-blood of agriculture. Without an adequate supply of water we cannot produce, process, or prepare food. You’ve heard the catch-phrase “No Farms, No Food”? The same could be said for water: “No Water, No Food”.

Actually, water is even more important than that. It is the life-blood of civilization. There was a study published a couple of years ago that evaluated the importance of water (and grain) as it related to the development of the Roman Empire (Dermody et.al. 2014). The conclusion of this study is that Rome ultimately was undone by the fact that it had to expand its empire too far to secure sufficient water resources to feed itself. [Someday I’ll write a post about this study – it’s an open access journal so anyone with a computer can read it.] Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Community and Society, Event
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Perspectives on Agriculture in a Changing Climate – It’s complicated!

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | May 10, 2016
Pacific Northwest agricultural industries where urgency meets win-win solutions. Credits: Shellfish – Flickr user NH567 under CC BY-NC 2.0; Irrigation – Henry Alva under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Vineyard – Flickr user RVWithTito.com under CC BY 2.0.

Pacific Northwest agricultural industries where urgency meets win-win solutions. Credits: Shellfish – Flickr user NH567 under CC BY-NC 2.0; Irrigation – Henry Alva under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Vineyard – Flickr user RVWithTito.com under CC BY 2.0.

“Agriculture” in the Pacific Northwest encompasses a lot—dryland and irrigated systems, beef and dairy production, grains and other field crops, vegetables, fruit trees, pastures, other perennial crops, commodity and specialty markets, from local to global—so there’s no getting away from the fact that talking about climate change and agriculture gets complicated, really fast. This point came across to me very strongly at the Agriculture in a Changing Climate workshop in Kennewick in March, when invited industry representatives shared their perspectives on climate change and agriculture during a panel discussion. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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Organic Farming Provides Ecosystem Service and Solves Weed Problems

Posted by Andrew McGuire | April 14, 2016

In nearly all surveys of organic farmers their top priority for research is weed control. Weeds are a tough problem to solve, but with creativity and spunk, researchers in Spain have done it! In their 2016 paper, “Arable Weed Decline in Northeast Spain: Does Organic Farming Recover Functional Biodiversity?” Chamorro et al. provide a unique glimpse into the sort of thinking it will take to move agriculture to a different place. In a series of unanticipated turns, the authors lead us down a path to weed-free agriculture.

First, they contend that weeds are misunderstood. Weeds, as the paper admits, are a bane of agriculture, reducing yields as they do, but in a subtle departure, we are then told “The role of weeds in agroecosystems has been largely debated.” From this debate, the authors conclude that “the role of weeds is manifold”; weeds are not just yield-robbing competitors of crops, they also provide an “ecosystem service.” Read more »

2016 BIOAg Projects

Posted by Chad Kruger | April 7, 2016
B. Gerdeman will study the potential of predatory flies as pest control in raspberry for spotted wing drosophila (pictured). Photo: H. Burrack, NCSU, Bugwood.org via Flickr CC.

B. Gerdeman will study the potential of predatory flies as pest control in raspberry for spotted wing drosophila (pictured). Photo: H. Burrack, NCSU, Bugwood.org via Flickr CC.

Each year CSANR runs a solicitation for new research and extension proposals called the BIOAg program. This program has proven to be a critical factor in the success of CSANR Affiliated Faculty in establishing successful new projects and initiatives that address sustainability concerns for Washington’s food and agriculture system.

This program is the primary mechanism we have for engaging new WSU faculty in sustainable and organic agricultural research. This round we funded 7 projects (28% of proposed projects) covering berries, grapes, apples, vegetables, livestock and grains. The 7 projects represented 9 faculty investigators new to the BIOAg Program, representing Crop & Soil Sciences, Horticulture, Biological Systems Engineering, and Entomology. All 7 funded projects have a relationship with the priority area of improving soil quality. A list of funded projects is in the table below, and you can read more details on each of the projects here: http://csanr.wsu.edu/grants/2016/. Read more »

Explore Anaerobic Digestion investment options before investing a cent! A Quick Introduction to the AD System Enterprise Budget Calculator

Posted by Gregory Astill | March 10, 2016

Gregory Astill, PhD Economics, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Economic Research Service or the USDA.

Photo: D. Story

Photo: D. Story

Ever struggled with deciding whether to invest in new technology, and which of a range of technology options would be a better fit to your operation? The Anaerobic Digester (AD) System Enterprise Budget Calculator is a tool that is intended for dairy owners, AD system industry experts, and AD researchers to explore such options. The tool will calculate the net present value of your investment in an AD system, under specific technology and price scenarios. And though we cannot guarantee that you will achieve the results generated by this tool, you can explore the economic benefits of different AD technologies. Just make sure that all price, input and output quantities, and other details accurately reflect your unique situation. Read more »

Filed under Energy, Sustainable Practices and Technology
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Stripper headers – a new, cool tool for adapting to a changing climate (w/ video)

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | March 8, 2016
Adaptations can include new equipment to handle harvest differently, like the stripper header, mounted on this combine. Photo: H. Davis

Adaptations can include new equipment to handle harvest differently, like the stripper header, mounted on this combine. Photo: H. Davis

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 »

Early 2015 drought loss numbers are coming in – Where is my crystal ball?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | February 25, 2016

Originally published on Agriculture Climate Network February 22, 2016

Drought conditions across the western U.S. in August 2015. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive http://bit.ly/1mW1DxL

Drought conditions across the western U.S. in August 2015. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive http://bit.ly/1mW1DxL

There is little doubt that last year’s high temperatures and water scarcity—because of the warm, low-snowpack winter—had a significant economic impact on Pacific Northwest agriculture. A Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) preliminary report places losses at approximately $325 million statewide, based on an initial estimate. These numbers will change as better data roll in. Meanwhile, a study by University of California–Davis researcher Richard Howitt and colleagues places that state’s crop revenue losses due to drought at $900 million. While I have not found similar reports for Oregon and Idaho, these two states also felt the drought, particularly in Oregon.In an earlier post I described how knowing that a particular year’s weather is representative of future climate projections can give us a good sense of what may be ahead. To the extent that this is true, then a better understanding of the impacts last year’s conditions had on agriculture can give us a sense of what we can expect as the climate warms. And the diversity of growers’ responses and how effective they were can give us ideas about what strategies to try as the climate changes. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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The Promise of Agriculture

Posted by Elisha Ondov | February 23, 2016

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference.  We have been posting reflections written by the students over the past several months. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Elisha Ondov, student guest-blogger.

Elisha Ondov, student guest-blogger.

My name is Elisha Ondov (pronounced E-lie-shuh). I am a student at Washington State University who, in November 2015, attended my first Tilth Producers conference in lovely Spokane. There I was introduced to the wickedly cut-throat world of the farming industry as I felt a little misplaced. A lot of people I spoke to (mostly students at WSU) wondered what brought me, a civil engineering student, to the conference. They thought I was lost, and I think they were right.

My time at the conference was quite an enjoyable atmosphere, but you get out what you put into it. As a socially reserved civil engineering student, it was fairly limited through my perspective. I am not a businessman with a product to sell. I don’t do agricultural research in a lab. I have been living in dormitories, so no yard to cultivate, and every aspect of my life does not support a farming lifestyle from family to friends and finances. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability
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The “Sunset Review” Process of the National Organic Standards Board

Posted by David Granatstein | February 11, 2016

This post was written by Harold Austin, NOSB member and David Granatstein, WSU

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Photo: T. Psych via Flickr CC.

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-624, Nov. 28, 1990) was passed to establish a uniform definition and regulation of organic foods in the U.S. The law provides the framework for development of a system for organic certification (7 USC Ch. 94, Organic Certification) for farms, processors, and handlers. The varied organic certification programs and laws in place prior to the national law typically contained lists of prohibited materials for use in organic crop and livestock production and in organic food handling and manufacturing processes, based on the general principle of natural is acceptable, synthetic is prohibited. The Federal approach called for establishment of a “national list” that would delineate “allowed synthetics” and “prohibited naturals.” If a natural material was not on the list, it was allowed; if a synthetic materials was not on the list, it was prohibited. This was meant to expedite the process of material review by only debating the exceptions, not each specific allowed natural.

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Filed under Community and Society, Organic Farming
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