Climate Change RSS feed

What have we learned about dryland cropping systems in the last 15 years?

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | July 13, 2017

Dryland crops are a common sight east of the Cascades, and cover a LOT of acreage in the Pacific Northwest – more than 5.8 million acres according to recent statistics. Over the last three years, a group of us at CSANR have had the privilege of working with more than 40 co-authors (!) from our region’s three land grant universities – WSU, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University – and from USDA Agricultural Research Service to summarize the most up-to-date scientific knowledge about our region’s dryland systems. That work has now been published as a book, Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest. With touchstone chapters on climate considerations (which has always played a predominant role in determining what crops can be grown) and soil health, this wide-ranging book has chapters on conservation tillage systems, residue management, crop intensification and diversification, soil fertility management, soil amendments, precision agriculture, weeds, diseases, and insects, and policy. We invite you to explore the books many chapters online here or download the entire book as a PDF. If you know you will want to read this book and refer to it over time, you can also receive a free printed version as long as funds allow, by ordering here. Read more »

Drought and small revenues – do they always go hand in hand?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | June 5, 2017

The conditions the Northwest experienced in 2015 have received a lot of attention, because we saw drought even though precipitation was close to normal. So the drought was due to higher temperatures, which meant snow didn’t accumulate anywhere near as much as it does on average. With less water available for irrigation in summer (see our earlier articles on the 2015 drought here and here), we’d expected irrigated crops to suffer, and we’d also expect growers’ bottom line to suffer.

Drought (and other stresses) can have a significant impact on crop production—see this comparison of the size of an ear of corn in Missouri during the 2012 drought to its “normal” size (space between hands). The expectation is that decreases in production will lead to drops in revenue, but is that always the case? Photo: Malory Ensor/KOMU News under CC BY 2.0

But when the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Annual Statistical Bulletin for Washington State came out in October 2016, it was followed by an article in Capital Press discussing the apparent paradox that agricultural production values hit record highs in 2015, even though the region was under that newsworthy “snow drought.” Though I did not personally fact-check the Capital Press article, it’s an intriguing paradox. A presentation I heard at the recent (January 2017) Climate Impacts to Water Conference provided some insights. Ballav Aryal, a graduate student in the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University, presented research that highlighted two factors that might explain this apparent paradox. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
2 Comments

Farmer-to-Farmer Case Studies

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 1, 2017

Map of case study profile locations.

Successful farmers are skilled at coping with risk, from weather to markets, and a variety of other factors. So to answer the question, “what practices might best help our region’s farmers adapt to climate change?” we went straight to the source. Our region is home to many accomplished farmers who are pioneering a range of new farming practices that improve sustainability, enhance resilience, and are likely to be helpful in adapting to climate change. Their farming practices include reducing and eliminating tillage; diversifying crop rotations; integrating livestock and cover cropping into dryland wheat rotations; and working with partners in their communities to address water related issues. Read more »

Using the BioEarth Modeling Framework to Understand the Sources, Transport and Fate of Atmospheric Nitrogen in the Pacific Northwest

Posted by Liz Allen | May 18, 2017

Researchers: Serena Chung, John Harrison, Brian Lamb, and Tsengel Nergui

Widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and fossil fuel combustion have led to significant increases in reactive nitrogen emissions and deposition globally. Emissions are any transfer of nitrogen compounds from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere, while deposition describes transfer from the atmosphere back to the surface. Excess nitrogen is a serious environmental concern for many reasons including causing eutrophication of terrestrial and aquatic systems and contributing to global climate change. Within the Northwest, there are pressing questions about the degree to which agricultural practices contribute to excess nitrogen and its associated environmental consequences. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
No Comments

Exploring Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Agriculture in the Northwest

Posted by Liz Allen | April 27, 2017

One of the best things about my work is that it connects me with researchers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds who are committed to conducting science that informs natural resource management decisions.  I’ve been fortunate to work with WSU researchers studying regional climate change impacts for nearly 6 years now, and over that time many of my academic colleagues have developed new skills related to communicating their research to diverse audiences. I’ve also witnessed scientists’ growing interest in learning from stakeholders who make decisions about managing agricultural and natural resources “out there in the real world”. Read more »

Let the worms do the work – Critters help dairies manage manure

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | April 18, 2017

Got milk? Dairies are in the milk business, but must also manage manure produced along the way, and the potentially useful nutrients it holds. Photo: NRCS in Oregon under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Managing manure is a big part of what goes on at the “back end” of a dairy. Doing it well is important to avoid impacts on surrounding neighbors due to odors, impacts on air and water quality, or the release of unnecessary amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane or nitrous oxides (which, by the way, are respectively 28 and 265 times more powerful as global warming “blankets” than carbon dioxide). There are multiple technologies being developed, tested, and used to improve manure management in dairies. These include anaerobic digestion, which produces bioenergy and helps reduce odors (we provided an overview about a year ago in this article). Nutrient recovery technologies are another aspect being studied. These are an array of different technologies that allow us to collect the potentially useful nitrogen and phosphorus found in manure, so it can be used productively rather than contributing to climate change or other issues. Read more »

Parched and drenched – we can expect both in the Northwest

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | March 15, 2017

The snow-covered landscape, the Columbia River, and the pine forests covered with signs of the recent ice storm provided the backdrop for the Climate Impacts to Water Conference, hosted by Washington State University Extension. University of Idaho climate scientist John Abatzoglou gave a plenary talk, titled Parched and Drenched: Future Climate and Water Resources in the Pacific Northwest (check out the recording here).

What I really liked about Abatzoglou’s presentation was that he focused on one key number, and then got into the weeds of what it means and why it’s important to us. That key number in this case was the fact that the Northwest has seen an increase in average temperatures of 1°C (that’s almost 2°F, if you prefer Fahrenheit), which has mostly occurred in the last 50 years. Is this an important change, and should we care? Yes, because this past temperature increase has already led to more rain and less snow, a reduced winter snowpack, and spring runoff coming earlier in the year, leaving us drier in the summer. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
No Comments

Under what climatic conditions will it make economic sense to switch to a new irrigation system?

Posted by Keyvan Malek | March 2, 2017

High-efficiency drip irrigation system in wine grapes, a perennial, high-value crop in the region. Photo by Flickr user davitydave under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Investing in efficient irrigation systems usually requires significant capital. As with other capital-intensive investments, doing it would only make economic sense if the benefits exceed the costs. Each farmer can estimate the cost of switching their system to a high-efficiency system. But what about the benefits? What do they depend on? And will those factors they depend on change in the future? We used a model to play out some “what if” scenarios to address these questions in Washington’s Yakima Basin (see this article on using models in this way).

Efficient irrigation systems can improve yields through a more efficient delivery of water to the root zone, where crops can access it. Say you have 2 acre-feet of irrigation water available. With a traditional system you might lose 40% of that water through evaporation, drift, or percolation beyond the rooting depth, so your crop will only have 1.2 ac-ft to use. With a high-efficiency system, that availability might go up to 1.9 ac-ft or more, which allows the crop to produce higher yields. Read more »

Summarizing Scientific Knowledge about Agriculture and Climate Change in the Northwest U.S. and Plotting a Roadmap for the Future

Posted by Liz Allen | March 2, 2017

Back in March of 2016, a group of agriculture sector stakeholders– including researchers, policy makers and producers– met in Tri-Cities, Washington, for the Agriculture in a Changing Climate Workshop. The three-day workshop was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northwest Climate Hub and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Facilitators from the William D. Ruckelshaus Center were instrumental in supporting generative dialogue. Workshop participants worked together to define priorities for the future research and extension efforts focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Northwest. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
No Comments

Hot, hotter, hottest (so far) – Should I care?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | February 9, 2017

I must confess that sometimes I like geeking out on data—raw climate data, for example. But most of the time I don’t have enough background knowledge about the complex and detailed data I’m looking at to interpret what it shows me about the big picture. So I really appreciate it when the experts take the time to present and discuss their data in a way that helps me understand the underlying patterns. If you are like me in that way, you might enjoy a recent (January 2017) Beyond the Data blog article by NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden, discussing how unusual the 2014-2016 global record-temperature “three-peat” is, relative to the temperature record over the last 100+ years.

Granted, you can argue that Blunden chose this “three-peat” to make a particular point. Yes, choosing a particular way to slice the data can be arbitrary, unless you have the statistical expertise to pull out from the data themselves the most relevant slicing (which I don’t). Nonetheless, Blunden’s article provides some interesting food for thought about long-term trends, and a variety of ways to look at the data to see if we should care about a particular pattern, in this case the 2014-2016 “three-peat.” Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
No Comments

« Older Posts