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Resiliency achieved by sustainable agriculture

Posted by Corina Serban | December 5, 2016

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

corinaMy name is Corina Serban, and I am currently working towards my Master of Science in the Horticulture department at Washington State University. Attending the Tilth Conference for the first time gave me an ideal opportunity to network with other professionals and learn a lot from the workshops presented.

This year’s conference focused on change and resiliency. It brought ideas and people that inspire organic and sustainable farming. I personally found this event to be valuable to me as a Horticulture graduate student. Through my research, I want to contribute to the development of pre- and postharvest management strategies to reduce physiological disorders related to calcium deficiencies on ‘Honeycrisp’ apples. Even though my research approach is on conventional orchards, I have always had a passion to know more about organic and sustainable tree fruit production. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed being in the natural world and had my own garden. I grew up with values that show how important is the respect for the land and the care that is an integral part of growing healthy and nutritious crops. After sharing my ideas with others who were passionate as well about organic and sustainable agriculture, I felt like I was in the right place.  I could express my opinions and learn about new ideas and technologies in sustainable agriculture. Read more »

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Crop rotation: In praise of deliberate, sequenced disruption of natural systems

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 1, 2016

For years, researchers have been looking to polycultures, biodiversity in space, as a way to improve agriculture (Trenbath 1974; Tilman et al. 1997; Cardinale et al. 2011; Finney and Kaye 2016). Behind this research is the idea that nature is the best model for agriculture. Because we find that nature is generally a polyculture, we should mimic this biodiversity on the farm. Natural is now viewed as the best option. Today, however, I want to commend a most unnatural practice, crop rotation.

The unnatural, disruptive transition of wheat monoculture to bean monoculture – good for agriculture

The unnatural, disruptive transition of wheat monoculture to bean monoculture – good for agriculture

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BioEarth Webinar Series: Reporting on five years of climate impacts & nutrient dynamics research in the Northwest US

Posted by Liz Allen | November 30, 2016

WSU’s BioEarth research team is hosting a webinar series in collaboration with the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. The BioEarth project has sought to model biogeochemical cycles in a changing climate at the regional scale. Researchers will share their findings related to climate change impacts on Northwest US water resources, nutrient cycling, and managed and natural ecosystems. Webinars will focus on implications of research results for natural and agricultural resource management decisions. Details about the webinar series are available here. Read more »

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A Good Harvest: Mendoza and Baird dazzle the Quincy Success Summit

Posted by Marcy Ostrom | November 22, 2016

oscar-romero-2016-iris-summit-logoAs shown in this logo designed by Quincy resident Oscar Romero, the theme of last Tuesday’s bilingual community summit held at the Quincy Junior High as “Seeding Success, Growing ONE Community.” A team of bilingual junior high students and faculty, along with local volunteers hosted over 160 community members in a discussion about how to protect our region’s land and water resources and build community health and prosperity.  “Fostering cross-generational relationships, a sense of belonging, and knowledge and resource sharing” were among the subjects highlighted in a collection of over 60 short stories submitted by local citizens. These essays, chronicling recent “successes” both large and small were used to inspire deliberation, celebration, and action in small work groups. Read more »

High Residue Farming Workshop for Irrigated Producers

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | November 21, 2016
Corn plants coming up among strips of wheat.  Photo: D. Kilgore.

Corn plants coming up among strips of wheat. Photo: D. Kilgore.

WSU Extension is hosting an upcoming workshop on the basics of High Residue Farming on November 30, 2016, 9:30-3:30 in Moses Lake.  Details for those interested in attending are available here (lunch included if you pre-register by 11/22).

High residue farming is a term that covers a number of different specific farming practices, including strip-till and direct seeding. In all these systems, the amount of tillage is reduced in order to maintain crop residues on the soil surface.  High residue farming provides a number of benefits, but two key ones include reducing wind erosion (and the need to replant sand-blasted crops) and reducing the amount of time and equipment needed to plant. It can also improve soil health, increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, and in some cases increase the potential for double-cropping. Read more »

The New Urban Indoor Industrial Agriculture… but Why?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | November 16, 2016
Vertical farm crop wall demonstration project. Where is the soil? Photo: State Dept. via Flickr cc

Vertical farm crop wall demonstration project. Where is the soil?
Photo: State Dept. via Flickr cc

There is a new style of urban agriculture appearing around the world. The efforts differ in details, but they all use buildings or structures not originally designed to grow plants – no greenhouses. Carried out in old shipping containers, warehouses, and high-rises, perhaps even in an old factory or two, these “farms” bring agriculture fully indoors. Without sunshine, these farms rely on artificial lights shining on plants 24 hours a day in some cases. Without soil, plants sit in plastic pipes, or float on polystyrene rafts, stacked in tiers.  Without rain, nutrient enhanced water is cycled to the plant roots through piping, pumps and filters. Without wind, fans provide ventilation, ducts and vents deliver heated or cooled air for year-round production.

All this requires energy. These farms are plugged in, reliant on outside power. Outdoor farm fields are off the grid, at least for the production portion of the food chain. Even a continuous corn crop, the scorned example of “industrial” agriculture, is not affected by a blackout. While an outdoor “industrial” crop is still subject to the biological realities of crop growth cycles and seasons, crop production in these indoor farms can be sped up and streamlined. All it takes is lots pipes and tanks, cables and lights. Read more »

Growing condition analogues – Understanding future climate through past experience

Posted by Kirti Rajagopalan | November 14, 2016
Though Appletown in this article is a theoretical location, producers sharing what practices work for them is a real source of information that can help others make decisions under uncertain future conditions. Photo credit: Scott Bauer/USDA, under CC BY 2.0

Though Appletown in this article is a theoretical location, producers sharing what practices work for them is a real source of information that can help others make decisions under uncertain future conditions. Photo credit: Scott Bauer/USDA, under CC BY 2.0

Weather is the most important driver of agricultural production. Year-to-year changes in the weather affect growing conditions, which then lead to important swings in yields, quality, timing and marketability of Pacific Northwest products such as apples, wheat, potatoes, and hay. In a similar way, changes in climate are leading to changes in growing conditions, and these changes also pose risks to production. Growing condition analogues are an approach to identifying and exploring past experiences that are relevant to understanding the risks expected in the future.

Over the years—and in some cases over generations—producers have refined their management practices to best address the complex interactions between the crops they grow and the wide range of growing conditions that determine the productivity and sustainability of their operation. These best practices are adapted to the local conditions and are continuously improved over the years, creating a rich body of location-specific agronomic knowledge. With the wide range of conditions that have occurred over the Pacific Northwest’s agricultural history—to say nothing of the range of conditions across different agricultural regions in North America—there’s a wealth of experiences out there that growers can tap into. The challenge is to know which experiences can help one determine how best to prepare for what the future will bring for one’s location. That’s where growing condition analogues come in. Read more »

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The Fallout of October Rains in the Desert

Posted by Andrew McGuire | November 1, 2016
Photo: C. Chene via Flickr cc.

Photo: C. Chene via Flickr cc.

Here in the Columbia Basin, something extraordinary has happened; it rained a lot in October. Although not technically a desert, we are normally desert-like from June-October. Not this year. How much rain did we get? Well, in Ephrata where I live, we have seen over 2.5 inches of rain. I know, not much, even by Inland Northwest standards. But 2.5” is record rainfall for us – never have we seen so much rain in October – and it has had some consequences.

They don’t often admit it, perhaps out of respect for dryland farmers to the East, but farmers in the Columbia Basin prefer to get their water out the end of a sprinkler. They like to control how much and when the water falls on their fields.  When it comes out of the sky, it messes things up. The rains have delayed harvest of late potatoes, onions, dry beans and other crops. Although I expect all these crops will be harvested, the wet ground and crops probably caused some yield losses, and equipment traffic on wet soils likely compacted soils which will require additional tillage to fix.

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Filed under Climate Change, Sustainability
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Defending the Proper Use of Monoculture

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 27, 2016
Monoculture of dry edible beans. Photo: A. McGuire.

Monoculture of dry edible beans. Photo: A. McGuire.

Many bloggers have it wrong, Wikipedia had it wrong, and when I found that Agronomy Journal got it wrong, I was compelled to write on the topic once again. Monoculture is not the year-after-year production of the same crop in the same field. That is mono-cropping or continuous cropping, where the better alternative is crop rotation. Monoculture is “when only one crop species is grown in a field at a time” (Loomis and Connor, 1992), and the hard-to-manage alternative is polyculture or intercropping. You can take a picture of monoculture, but not of mono-cropping.

Just where this widespread misuse of “monoculture” started, I am not sure. It probably precedes the internet, and may have something to do with the similarity of monoculture and mono-cropping. More recently, Wikipedia played a part. For years it had a definition that combined the meanings of monoculture and mono-cropping. I suspect that this incorrect definition, and the fact that many people without agricultural backgrounds write about agriculture, has led to the widespread misuse we see today. Read more »

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Keep an eye on those pests! Vigilance and adaptability to climate change

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | September 12, 2016

I’m a “lumper” rather than a “splitter.” Give me lots of details on different crops, yields, pests, or weeds, and I’ll try to pull out some overarching idea to remember (I’m likely to forget the details). Luckily there are people who thrive on the details, as was made clear to me in a webinar given by Dr. Sanford Eigenbrode earlier this year, discussing climate change and insects in wheat systems.

Wheat infected with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Photo: Dr. Juliet Marshall, University of Idaho.

Wheat infected with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Photo: Dr. Juliet Marshall, University of Idaho.

Because I am a “lumper”, I’ll start with the overarching point I took away from the webinar: we (that is, entomologists like Dr. Eigenbrode, not me personally) know enough about the insect pests affecting wheat systems in the Pacific Northwest to know that different insects, the viruses they spread, and the parasitoids and predators that control them will respond differently to a changing climate. So while crop models suggest that wheat yields in our high latitudes will fare reasonably well as carbon dioxide concentrations increase and the climate warms, there is still a huge question mark related to whether insects and other pests will allow such yields to happen. Vigilance, and knowing what insects to pay particular attention to, can therefore make a big difference to wheat growers’ collective ability to respond and adapt to changes. Read more »

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