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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 »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
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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 »

Filed under Climate Change
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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 »

What is Holistic Agriculture?

Posted by Bertie Weddell | April 1, 2015
Carol Schaffer

Photo: C. Schaffer

Recently, I watched a TV program about rehabilitation of sloths illegally taken from the wild for the pet trade in Colombia. According to the narrator, the sloths were treated with holistic medicine. This puzzled me. I thought holistic medicine involved treatment of body, mind, spirit, and emotions. I couldn’t help wondering what we know about the mental, spiritual, and emotional life of sloths. Read more »

Space Farming is Science FICTION

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 27, 2015
The future of agriculture? Photo: A. S. Guerreirinho

The future of agriculture? Photo: A. S. Guerreirinho

It said on the screen, “Bioregenerating Soil-Based Space Agriculture.” The title of the talk was “Beyond Intensification.” The speaker, a prominent researcher and prolific author, someone who I thought would present clear thinking on how, in addition to intensification of current agriculture, we can go about producing enough food for the earth’s growing population.  I glanced around to see if anyone else was astonished.  Space farming, he said, was the next step after agricultural intensification with food coming from the Moon and Mars. “Has it come to that?” I thought.

I am a fan of science fiction, not a costumed, Trekkie-conference fan, but a fan. However, over the years, I have realized that the stories I enjoy most are mostly fiction; the science is often ignored. This is “soft” science fiction, the stuff of most Sci-Fi movies because there is a way to visit distant planets; think warp drives on the Enterprise, a hyperdrive in the Millennium Falcon, and wormholes in Interstellar. Read more »

Thinking ahead: the future of farming

Posted by Rachel Wieme | March 23, 2015

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference.  We have been posting reflections written by the students over the last few months.  This is the last post in the series. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Rachel Wieme, guest student blogger

Rachel Wieme, guest student blogger

The Tilth Producers of Washington annual conference provides the unique opportunity for farmers, industry representatives, scientists, and educators to gather for a weekend of inspiring conversations and idea sharing, and I was looking forward to attending the Tilth conference this year for a second time since starting graduate school at WSU in 2012. This year’s conference was a very different experience for me compared to my first one two years ago, and I think that was largely due to the different perspective and experiences I’ve gained through my graduate program at WSU – an interdisciplinary National Science Foundation – Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (NSF-IGERT) program focused on training scientists to be able to work at the interface of science and policy, effectively communicating science to bridge the gaps between scientists, stakeholders, and policy makers. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability

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

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

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 »

Embracing Value-Added, Evidence-Based Diversity Across the Food Industry is Good for Business

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 25, 2015

Benefits of Org Ag BenbrookIf you ask any brand manager, company executive, or corporate board member what a company’s most valuable asset is, the answer is always the same – consumer trust, and the marketplace loyalty grounded in that trust.

Whether selling cars, computers, or potato chips, both trust and market share are difficult to earn and easily lost.

Maintaining consumer trust does not occur in a vacuum. Aggressive, young sharks (i.e., competitors) are always eager to move up the food chain, and the unexpected must be expected – and dealt with adroitly, to prevent a slip from starting a long, slow slide.

Think of all the sweat equity, and public and private investment capital that has flowed into U.S. Ag Inc. over the last half-century, making our food and fiber system the envy of the world, or so the story goes.

Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Organic Farming

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