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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 »

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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 »

Early 2015 drought loss numbers are coming in – Where is my crystal ball?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | February 25, 2016

Originally published on Agriculture Climate Network February 22, 2016

Drought conditions across the western U.S. in August 2015. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive http://bit.ly/1mW1DxL

Drought conditions across the western U.S. in August 2015. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive http://bit.ly/1mW1DxL

There is little doubt that last year’s high temperatures and water scarcity—because of the warm, low-snowpack winter—had a significant economic impact on Pacific Northwest agriculture. A Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) preliminary report places losses at approximately $325 million statewide, based on an initial estimate. These numbers will change as better data roll in. Meanwhile, a study by University of California–Davis researcher Richard Howitt and colleagues places that state’s crop revenue losses due to drought at $900 million. While I have not found similar reports for Oregon and Idaho, these two states also felt the drought, particularly in Oregon.In an earlier post I described how knowing that a particular year’s weather is representative of future climate projections can give us a good sense of what may be ahead. To the extent that this is true, then a better understanding of the impacts last year’s conditions had on agriculture can give us a sense of what we can expect as the climate warms. And the diversity of growers’ responses and how effective they were can give us ideas about what strategies to try as the climate changes. Read more »

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Being prepared: what we got can help us understand what to expect

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | October 12, 2015

As I shared in my last post, “Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get.” But if the climate is changing, and part of what experts predict is that we’ll see more extreme weather and weather-related events—think floods, droughts, big storms—what should we expect?

Chelan, WA vineyard. Photo: A. Simonds

Wine grapes; a crop of growing importance in eastern Washington that tolerates drought better than other important crops. Photo: A. Simonds

More than one research group is working hard to develop models that can help answer this and other questions. They are also working to collect real-world data against which to compare the model projections, to improve our confidence in what these models tell us. It is this combination of data and good models—models that do a good job at representing what actually happens in the real world—that would allow us to say to what extent a particular event is due to a changing climate, and how much is just the natural, year-to-year variability that we are all used to experiencing. Read more »

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Being prepared: what you get is not necessarily what you expect

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | October 8, 2015
The Grizzly Bear Complex Fires located southeast of Dayton, WA began on Aug. 13, 2015.   Photo: USFS.

The Grizzly Bear Complex Fires located southeast of Dayton, WA began on Aug. 13, 2015. Photo: USFS.

A concerned citizen wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper recently, complaining about how weather, climate, and climate change had been used almost interchangeably. Reading that letter got me thinking about the active scientific discussion on whether extreme weather or weather-driven events like floods and wildfires—the latter very much on our radar in eastern Washington this year—are due to climate change. And more importantly, it got me thinking about how to best take advantage of what we know, even when there are some complex issues we still don’t fully understand. Here I tackle the difference between weather and climate, and in a future post I will discuss what we know—and don’t—about climate change impacts and how what we do know can be useful. Read more »

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Early preparation for water transfers could reduce drought impacts for agriculture and fish

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | September 29, 2015

As this hot, dry summer winds down across Washington State, many areas are continuing to struggle with the impacts of drought.  (Those who would like a recap of August weather and drought conditions can see the WSU Drought Report here.)

Unfortunately, while the weather has become more fall-like, with welcome rain in some areas, all climate indicators point towards increased chance of warmer and somewhat drier than normal conditions through mid-2016 – as shown in the three month forecast from the Climate Prediction Center (see the maps below). Indicators consistent with this forecast include recent observations of a strong El Niño, forecasts of an 85% or greater likelihood of El Niño persisting through next spring, and a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) signal[1]. Together, this all points to a likelihood of reduced snowpack this winter – and limited water availability again next summer and fall. Read more »

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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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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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Is this the new climate normal?

Posted by Chad Kruger | March 11, 2015
Patchy snow at the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area in February 2015 exemplifies the lack of snow in the Cascades. Photo: S. Ringman, Seattle Times.  Accessed via P. Stevens https://flic.kr/p/qegBhX

Patchy snow at the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area in February 2015 exemplifies the lack of snow in the Cascades. Photo: S. Ringman, Seattle Times. Accessed via P. Stevens https://flic.kr/p/qegBhX

I will remember winter 2014-2015 as the winter of seemingly never-ending fog, and snow that didn’t stick. That sucks on so many levels, particularly for what it will mean come July and August when we have a serious water problem in the Inland Northwest. I keep getting asked “is this climate change” and “is this what we have to look forward to?” Read more »

Does an anaerobic digester cost too much?

Posted by Chad Kruger | March 9, 2015
Photo: Derrick Story

Photo: D. Story

Anaerobic digestion (AD) with methane capture and conversion is the most straight-forward, bankable strategy for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it is the only agricultural carbon mitigation strategy that has achieved wide-spread acceptance in a variety of voluntary and mandatory carbon mitigation policies. In a sense, it is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” carbon mitigation solution that exists in agriculture. However, AD still has limited overall market penetration in US livestock production systems, in large part because of the perception that it is really expensive technology. Read more »

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