Perspectives on Sustainability RSS feed

Orchard Netting: A Catch All for Climate Change Adaptation

Posted by Brendon Anthony | August 22, 2016

Brendon Anthony is pursuing a Master of Science in the Horticulture program at Washington State University.

As a child in elementary school I learned that the two basic requirements for the growth and success of a plant are sunlight and water. However, as I have undergone further schooling and research, specifically in horticulture, I have learned how extremely simplified those requirements are. In reality, it takes numerous inputs and extensive management to steward the growth of a plant.

Honeycrisp apples like these are an important tree fruit crop in the state. Photo: D. Rivard via Flickr c.c.

Honeycrisp apples like these are an important crop to the PNW tree fruit industry. Photo: D. Rivard via Flickr c.c.

Though sunlight and water are not the full picture, they are certainly foundational. In the face of a changing climate with more extreme and unpredictable weather, they are resources that are becoming more and more challenging to preserve, utilize, and control. How to best manage sunlight and water is being investigated and tested by the Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry. This is an industry that relies on consistent temperatures both in the winter to facilitate dormancy, and during the growing season to prevent frost damage or sunburn. It is an industry that uses gallons upon gallons of water to ensure a high yield. So, how does an industry so dependent upon these crucial resources react to a rapidly changing climate, all while maintaining sustainability in their pocket books and in their surrounding environment? Read more »

Biosolids – understanding benefits and risks

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | August 16, 2016
Biosolids being spread on agricultural fields. Photo: A. Bary.

Biosolids being spread on agricultural fields. Photo: A. Bary.

Biosolids?  Yes, that means sewage sludge.  Well, sort of.  But before you say YUCK and click off the page, let’s start with what they really are: biosolids are the materials produced from digestion of sewage at city wastewater treatment plants. They are rich in plant nutrients such as organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, and can be applied to wheat, alfalfa, and timber land for plant fertilization and soil conditioning. When biosolids are applied at rates that meet plant nutrient needs, farmers and researchers are seeing crop yields equal to or greater than those seen with synthetic fertilizer. Applying biosolids as fertilizer also allows them to be recycled for a useful purpose rather than disposed of in landfills or incinerated.

Read more »

How useful are models anyway? An example, now open for public comment

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | July 14, 2016
Cover of the draft 2016 Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast Legislative Report, currently available for public comment.  Click image for link.

Cover of the draft 2016 Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast Legislative Report, currently available for public comment. Click image for link.

Water, water everywhere… but will it continue to be there in the future? Will it be available when we need it? Or do we need to invest in projects or policies now, because the water in the future will not be the same as in the past? These are the issues that the collaborative research team working on the 2016 Columbia River Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast are using models to address, at the direction of the Office of the Columbia River (OCR, part of the Washington Department of Ecology) and the Washington State Legislature.

Preliminary model results were presented at three public workshops in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane in late June, and the draft report is available for public comment on OCR’s website until July 20, 2016. Here’s the summary of changes in water supply projected by this research:

  • Average annual supply of water for all uses across the Columbia River Basin down to Bonneville Dam is expected to increase around 12% by 2035.
  • That water would be available earlier in the spring than it has been in the past: water supply between November and May is projected to increase by almost 30%, while water supply between June and October is projected to decrease almost 11%.

Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Sustainability
No Comments

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).

Read more »

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
2 Comments

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
No Comments

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
No Comments

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 »

« Older Posts