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Cold + Dry = Winterkill : 2013-14 Winter in Review

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 18, 2014

Remember last winter? As June warms and temperatures in the 90s are in the forecast, it may be hard to recall, but here in the Columbia Basin, it was dry with a few notable cold spells. That combination of cold and dry can be hard on plants, agricultural and ornamental.

Plants, both annuals and perennials, from wheat to lavender, alfalfa to ziziphus, vary in their ability to survive winter conditions. However, there are three factors that combined to make last winter a “hard winter.” Read more »

Making Farming “Climate Friendly”: What is the impact of nitrous oxide in our region?

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 17, 2014

If you are interested in ensuring that farming is climate friendly you are likely to start thinking about nitrous oxide (N2O). Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas (298 times as powerful as carbon dioxide, over a 100-year time frame). And nitrous oxide from agricultural soils is the single biggest contributor to agriculture’s direct greenhouse gas emissions, as estimated through inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. In Washington State, it was estimated that nitrous oxide from soils accounted for 46% of direct greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2008.1 However, these estimates rely on “default” assumptions about nitrous oxide emissions that were developed from global data – and a review of existing experimental data in our region suggests these defaults may not be appropriate in our region. Read more »

National Climate Assessment

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 19, 2014
Nikki Stephen

Palouse (photo: Nikki Stephen)

The US Global Change Research Program released the Third National Climate Assessment a couple of weeks ago. Unlike some other recent climate report releases (USDA’s Climate Change and Agriculture Report, the Northwest Climate Assessment and the IPCC AR5 Draft Report), this one seemed to have been picked up to a much greater extent by the major national and regional news agencies. In fact, I’ve been interviewed by two separate NPR reporters in the region for my interpretation on what the Assessment means for PNW agriculture. Part of the reason for the media attention likely stems from the much more aggressive promotional messaging – specifically stating that climate change is hurting the economy now (I’ll have more to say on that idea in a future post).

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When engineering a green solution has gone too far…

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 12, 2014

I’ve seen a lot of crazy ideas in the realm of agricultural technology and even toyed with a few crazy ideas myself. Crazy ideas seem to have an appeal in our society that exceeds any rational expectation for the likely success or concern regarding the downside of any given technology. Perhaps this is because people are always looking for the next revolutionary technology like tractors, hybrid seeds, and solar fence electrifiers. Or perhaps it’s because we’re hard-wired to expect technological silver bullets to solve distinctly human problems. In fact, I suspect the reason that our own crazy (and not quite perfect) idea for a household-scale biogas reactor is among the most visited pages on the CSANR website is because it conjures up images of this infamous science fiction idea:

Who wouldn’t want to have that? Read more »

Summer nights are getting hotter faster than summer days. What does it mean for agriculture?

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 8, 2014

Nick Bond, the Washington State Climatologist, pointed out an interesting observation at a meeting I attended last week. For summers from 2000-2010, nighttime temperatures (T-min) in many locations in the Pacific Northwest have shown a strong warming trend while daytime temperatures (T-max) have shown a general cooling trend (Panel 1).   Each circle on the map is scaled based on the station’s temperature trend with red indicating increasing temperature and blue decreasing. This could be part of the reason I’ve had trouble sleeping at night in recent summers – more below!

Panel 1: Summer Min (nighttime) and Max (daytime) Temperatures: 2000-2010;   Source: http://www.climate.washington.edu/trendanalysis/

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The disconnect between the production and consumption of food

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 5, 2014
photo: Kabsik Park

Photo: Kabsik Park

Over the past several months we’ve seen: a freak early-season snow storm in the Dakotas that killed tens of thousands of cattle that could take affected ranchers more than a decade to recover from, continued and expanding drought conditions in the corn belt of the Upper Midwest, extended drought cutting off irrigation water in the “produce basket” of the Central Valley of California, massively destructive storms and flooding in the Gulf Coast, and a deadly virus killing piglets in more than half the country. In spite of this, we’re just finally seeing reports that the price of food is creeping higher – a whopping 0.4% two months in a row! – with the increasing price of bacon the one most people are complaining about. Read more »

Climate Change or Climate Variability: which matters more for crop production in the PNW?

Posted by Chad Kruger | April 18, 2014

Several modeling studies have been conducted in recent years to estimate the potential impact of climate change on future crop production.  These studies generally indicate that the magnitude of the potential near-future impact (through 2050) is relatively modest for most crops in the Pacific Northwest – and usually somewhat positive.  Climate variability, on the other hand, already impacts crop yields at magnitudes equal to or greater than those projected for mid-century, and often in a very negative way.  So why do these studies focus on future climate if current climate seems to be the bigger concern? Read more »

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When MANAGING for soil carbon really pays

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 27, 2013

In August I published a post describing one mechanism by which increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) can lead to direct financial benefit on irrigated farms. In that particular example, the agronomic value of the carbon could be more than 10X greater than the potential value of a “carbon credit”.  While it’s clear that there are general benefits to increasing SOC, in reality the specifics of each situation, such as the climate, soils, and management system, will all have an impact on monetizing any benefit. In this post I’ll examine a different case example published by some of my colleagues working at the WSU Cook Agronomy Farm, a dryland wheat farm near Pullman, Washington. Read more »

Considering the vulnerability of our food system to climatic disruptions

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 17, 2013

While the nationally televised Seahawks game was delayed for lightning Sunday night, much of the inland Pacific Northwest braced for the fourth major storm event this summer, with warnings for high winds and severe dust storms, massive electrical storms, heavy rainfall with localized flash flooding, mudslides and extensive power outages. Fortunately, my family did NOT get struck by lightning during this storm as we did in the August 10th storm and this storm also doesn’t seem to have sparked any new wild fires! In light of the on-going flood events in Colorado this week, it looks like we probably had it easy this time with only some inconveniences that should be corrected in the next 24-48 hours. However, given that September is National Preparedness Month, this seems like a good opportunity to highlight a recent commentary paper that I co-authored with some colleagues around the country evaluating research needs regarding the vulnerability of the food system to climatic disruptions. As with most commentary articles, this activity included a review of published literature coupled with expert assessment of where there are gaps in our understanding of vulnerabilities. Read more »

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When soil carbon sequestration REALLY pays

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 15, 2013

The dog days of summer have arrived in Eastern Washington – with daily temps reaching the high 90s every day. This is the second extended stretch of heat in the region this year. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Organic Farming, Sustainability
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