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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
Kruger

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
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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 »

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Welcome Rain

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | May 15, 2015
Pear trees in the rain.  Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Pear trees in the rain.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Those of us who have been watching the drought conditions in the Yakima Watershed of Eastern Washington got a welcome bit of news on Wednesday: significant precipitation.  Cliff Mass, from the University of Washington, did a nice job of summarizing the latest, and explaining why it’s such a lucky break, in this blog post.

For those who don’t follow water rights issues in the state regularly, it may help to know that the Roza Irrigation District is among the more vulnerable agricultural water users under drought conditions, as their water rights are junior to others in the Yakima (and under Washington State water law, more senior water rights have priority when there’s a water shortage). On May 11, after receiving a forecast from the Bureau of Reclamation that they (and other junior water rights holders) would get only 47% of their water supply this year, the Roza Irrigation District decided to shut down water use for at least two weeks, with the possibility of extending to three. This was done to save water for late August and September, in an attempt to avoid permanent damage to perennial crops such as fruit trees. You can read more about that decision in an article in the Yakima Herald here. Read more »

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Blueberries are Blooming and Booming

Posted by David Granatstein | April 29, 2015
Miriam Flickr

Photo: Miriam via Flickr Creative Commons

Consumer interest in blueberries as part of a healthy diet has exploded in recent years.  Blueberries are considered one of the “superfruits”, full of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. They are also easy to use, especially in breakfasts, where the breakfast smoothie has become a standard way to start the day for many.  This new morning pattern continues to create demand for ready to use ingredients such as blueberries. Washington State growers have produced blueberries commercially for many years, but our output has typically been less than our neighbors in Oregon and British Columbia.  With the recent demand increases, new blueberry plantings in the state have followed.  And the biggest shift is new plantings under irrigation in the Columbia Basin region, managed organically. A new publication on “Trends and Economics of Washington State Organic Blueberry Production” was just published by WSU faculty to help growers and others in the industry understand the current situation and evaluate opportunities for further expansion. Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming
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2015 BIOAg Projects

Posted by Chad Kruger | April 14, 2015
Lynne Carpenter-Boggs was funded to research acid-tolerant rhizobia to improve the production of pulse crops like lentils. Photo: Nick Mote

Lynne Carpenter-Boggs was funded to research acid-tolerant rhizobia to improve the production of pulse crops like lentils. Photo: Nick Mote

Each year CSANR administers an internal competitive grant program called BIOAg to fund new research and education projects focused on improving the sustainability of agriculture in Washington State. To date, through BIOAg and precursor internal grant programs, CSANR has funded 150 projects – many of which have led to significant new investments of extramural funding to further advance these ideas. Over the course of the program [and within each year] we have funded projects ranging from basic science to applied research to extension and educational products and we’ve always been able to maintain a good blend across this continuum.  Read more »

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