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Early preparation for water transfers could reduce drought impacts for agriculture and fish

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[1]. Together, this all points to a likelihood of reduced snowpack this winter – and limited water availability again next summer and fall. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Sustainability
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Schultz Legacy: Moving meat from farm to table

Posted by Marcy Ostrom | September 14, 2015
Tom Schultz conducting local market research at the San Juan Island Farmers Market

Tom Schultz conducting market research at the San Juan Island Farmers Market

This summer saw the retirement of long-time WSU San Juan County Extension director, Dr. Tom Schultz. Among many notable accomplishments, Tom was a national leader in applying the resources of extension to solving some of the most intractable problems facing local food systems. A plant pathologist by training, along the way Tom also became an expert in participatory community development. Through a process that took years to bear fruit, Tom and determined San Juan Islands citizens worked as part of the Lopez Community Land Trust to identify and break down barriers to local food production and consumption. A concern dating back to the 1990s was the lack of local USDA-inspected meat processing.  Island producers knew they had unique products that their neighbors and others looking for meat raised in a humane, healthy, and clean environment wanted to buy, yet the barriers seemed immense. Read more »

Organic appetite continues to grow

Posted by David Granatstein | September 8, 2015

2015-WOW-LogoNext week, Sept. 12-19, is Washington Organic Week, an annual celebration of organic farms, foods, and businesses in the state. This week we are releasing our 2014 statistical update of the organic sector, a report we have now produced for 10 years running. With continuous data over time, one can start to pick out some trends and patterns, which are discussed below. I had hoped to also be reporting here on the results of the 2014 USDA organic production survey, which was due to be released on August 31st but was delayed. Those results will be discussed in a future post. Globally, the most current data on organic agriculture come from the annual “World of Organic Agriculture” report (Willer and Lernoud, 2015), free online, which gathers data on the organic sector from 170 countries around the world.

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Filed under Community and Society, Organic Farming
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Climate Impacts Modeling 101: Interpreting What Models Say About the Future of Our Region Under Climate Change

Posted by Liz Allen | August 4, 2015

modeling 101As a PhD student with CSANR interested in improving communication about climate and agriculture between the academic and decision-making spheres, I’ve had a lot of conversations about climate models with agricultural producers, industry representatives, policy makers and regulatory officials (as well as with modelers themselves!).  In the course of those conversations it has become clear that accessible explanations of how climate models are developed and how the results from climate change projections ought to be interpreted are lacking. Read more »

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Lazy R Ranch: Holistic Management

Posted by Maria Donnay | July 21, 2015
June 2015 AC meeting at Lazy R Ranch.  Photo: T. Zimmerman

June 2015 AC meeting at Lazy R Ranch. Photo: T. Zimmerman

As an undergraduate intern at CSANR for the summer, I had the privilege to travel to Lazy R Ranch for our summer advisory committee (AC) meeting at the end of June. Maurice Robinette, long-time AC member, was gracious enough to host us at his ranch and share with us a taste (literally and figuratively) of his operation. To try to stay comfortable in the summer heat, we sat under the shade trees on the front lawn as Maurice and his daughter Beth shared with us the key element to their ranching success: holistic management. As the longest-standing example of holistic management in Washington State, the ranch serves as a learning site for the Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management, a Savory Institute Hub. Their farm, like many others in the northwest, is committed to seeking a more sustainable way of farming – sustainable for the land, animals, and people who live there.

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The Essentials of Sustaining Agricultural Production

Posted by Andrew McGuire | July 16, 2015

As a member of the Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, I work as an irrigated cropping systems agronomist working on ways to sustain agriculture (a professor I know promotes the use of tee shirts that say “I’m an AGRONOMIST – look it up!”). In doing this, I have come to realize that there are certain requirements that agriculture must meet to produce food and to keep producing food (yes, fiber too, and other non-food products, but mainly we are concerned with food production). I view these as a hierarchy, such that if the top requirement is not attained, the lower requirements do not mean much, but once the top requirement has been met, we can move to the next one, provided that how we do it does not threaten any of the requirements above it. Each component is required, but not sufficient; all of them are needed. Read more »

CSANR Annual Report – 2014 in review

Posted by Chad Kruger | June 15, 2015

CSANR Director Chad Kruger

In the early 1990s, leaders in Washington’s agriculture and food communities had the vision to create an incubator for sustainable and organic agriculture research and education at Washington State University (WSU). Now more than two decades later the Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources (CSANR) is a critical part of WSU’s sustainable agriculture efforts.  Thanks to the groundwork laid by those early visionaries (many of whom are still actively engaged), WSU is a place where students, faculty and partners eagerly engage in sustainable and organic agriculture research, extension and educational activities.

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Monoculture vs. Polyculture Part II: “Straight up” beats “cocktails” for cover crop ecosystem services

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 11, 2015

Cover crop mixtures, known as “cocktails” by some, are being promoted as having benefits over cover crops planted as monocultures. As I described in Part I, I reviewed recent research results to get at the answer to the question, “are monocultures or polycultures better when it comes to cover crops?” I found that, for biomass production at least, monocultures were actually best (see Part I). Now, let’s look at other services provided by cover crops and compare polycultures and monocultures. (See an explanation of monocultures, polycultures, overyielding and transgressive overyielding here)

Is a single-species cover crop or a cocktail mixture planting the best choice? Photos: A. McGuire.

Is a single-species cover crop or a “cocktail” mixture the best choice? Photos: A. McGuire.

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Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology

Monoculture vs. Polyculture Part I: “Straight up” beats “cocktails” for cover crop productivity

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 8, 2015

Planting cover crop mixtures is very popular right now. The practice has a feel-good aspect about it and, buoyed by the ecological theory, it fits with the current “mimic nature” strategy of agroecologists. In a previous blog post I demonstrated how difficult it is to do research on cover crop mixtures. Although difficult, there are intrepid researchers investigating this practice so I decided to see what they were finding. The results call into question the value of cover crop mixtures, as in many situations a monoculture cover crop would both produce more biomass and provide other desired services as well. Read more »

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Ecological Theories, Meta-Analysis, and the Benefits of Monocultures

Posted by Andrew McGuire | May 26, 2015

How do we go about increasing agricultural crop yields? As long as human populations are increasing, this is the primary challenge we face in agriculture. We must do this without threatening our ability to produce food in the future, and, if possible, without expansion of agricultural land (see graph below).

Decoupling of US corn production from area farmed. Data source: US Census Bureau (1975, 2012).

Decoupling of US corn production from area farmed. Data source: US Census Bureau (1975, 2012).


(From The Return of Nature; How Technology Liberates the Environment). Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
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