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Diversification where it isn’t easy: Beyond the grain-fallow rotation

Posted by Karen Hills | November 20, 2017

Diversifying crop rotations is a key strategy used to break pest and disease cycles and improve yields. But in the driest areas of the Pacific Northwest the low precipitation amounts limit the diversification strategies that are feasible. These areas have some of the least diverse cropping systems in the region, often with winter wheat as the only crop. In areas receiving less than 16 inches of precipitation a year that are generally too dry to support annual cropping, producers rely on summer fallow to retain winter precipitation in the soil profile. Areas where over 40% of the land a given year is fallowed are classified as grain-fallow cropping systems. From 2007 to 2014, only 4.3% of these areas, on average, were planted to another crop besides winter wheat (Kirby et al. 2017). What opportunities exist for diversifying crop rotations in these low diversity areas? In my work compiling the recently published Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I learned one answer to this question: winter peas. Read more »

Global agricultural regions to keep your eye on in the future

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | November 13, 2017

Over 30% of wheat is grown in temperate drylands globally, which are expected to see a 41% increase in suitability for rainfed agriculture. Photo credit: Flickr user Sparky, under CC BY-NC 2.0.

One challenge I struggle with when sharing research focused at global scales is how to tease out answers to questions that are meaningful in the region and at the scale I work in. My approach is to focus on the big picture the results sketch out, and think about what it all means (even when the specifics are not exactly right, which they rarely are). Hopefully I’ll be successful in this article about a paper I co-authored, on agriculture in temperate drylands (I define these below) at a global scale. Led by Dr. John Bradford at the U.S. Geological Survey, we looked at temperate drylands across the world, and explored how rainfed (non-irrigated) agricultural areas could shift as the climate changes. Read on, and see if I convince you that wheat growers in the Pacific Northwest should care about these results.   Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Global Environment
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Impacts and tools for dryland farmers adapting to climate change

Posted by Liz Allen | November 7, 2017

As climate and agriculture researchers we’re constantly learning from farmers who we interact with. Our conversations with dryland wheat producers in the inland Pacific Northwest have shown us that many farmers are very skilled at managing for multiple risks at once and making decisions under various kinds of uncertainty. Climate models project substantial warming by mid-century (Figure 1) as well as more frequent storm events and more extreme minimum and maximum temperatures in the future. At the same time, a higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere may contribute to more rapid crop growth.  As more detailed and sophisticated models of climate change and crop dynamics are developed, it is increasingly clear that managing under observed and projected climate change impacts will require new perspectives for farmers and other agriculture sector decision makers. Those involved in agriculture will need to develop their understanding of climate-related hazards and poise themselves to take advantage of emerging opportunities linked to a changing climate. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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A role for agricultural landscapes in conserving wildlife – Part 2

Posted by Andrew Shirk | October 24, 2017

Andrew Shirk, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, co-authored this post with Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University.

Fields enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) have augmented native habitat and helped Greater Sage-Grouse avoid extinction in the agricultural landscape of eastern Washington after decades of decline (see part 1 of this series for details). Even though the local sage-grouse population has stabilized in recent decades, it remains highly vulnerable because it is still small and isolated from other populations. As we enter an era of rapid climate change, the right conditions for sage-grouse habitat may shift away from currently occupied areas, requiring populations to move and colonize new areas over a short period of time. And they must do so across a landscape that is now replete with major highways, urban areas, and other barriers to movement. And even if wildlife can cross these barriers, the area of suitable, available habitat may shrink under the future climate. Read more »

There is not enough manure (or compost) to sustain agriculture

Posted by Andrew McGuire | October 18, 2017

There is not enough manure. Not enough to supply nutrients to our crops, not enough to maintain our soils. Those were the conclusions in my last two posts, but before we see what this means for agriculture, let’s look to other organic amendments. Is there enough of any of them?

Read more »

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Can manure sustain soils?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 19, 2017

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. -Mary Astor

How much manure do you need to spread to maintain your soil’s organic matter? Photo: werktuigendagen via Wikimedia Commons

My first question about manure, “Can Manure Supply Nitrogen and Phosphorus to Agriculture?” was answered here. But manure is more than nutrients. The bulk of manure is organic material, the carbon that the primary-producer feed crop took from the air and built into organic molecules (hence the name “organic”). When added to the soil, some of this manure bulk ends up as soil organic matter.

Organic matter is a small but crucial portion of soil. If we can maintain a soil’s organic matter levels, we have gone a long way in maintaining soil health and function. Can manure do this? Can manure sustain soils?
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Can Manure Supply Nitrogen and Phosphorus to Agriculture?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 7, 2017

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. -Mary Astor

Manure, whether fresh, old, or composted, is often declared to be a key component of sustainable agriculture. In countless trials, researchers have found multiple benefits of manure application (Haynes and Naidu 1998), and so manure use is promoted as a solution in discussions of sustainable agriculture topics including: soil fertility, soil health, organic farmingregenerative farming, carbon sequestration, and renewable resources.

However, I have questions. Not about the actual spreading of manure, or calculating application rates, but about manure’s role in sustaining agriculture. Is manure a sustainable source of nutrients? Is manure a sustainable organic soil amendment, able to build soil organic matter, store carbon in the soil, and so assist in reducing greenhouse gases? When is manure application a sustainable practice?

In my next few posts, I will answer these questions with the hope of finding manure’s true role in sustaining agriculture. First, let’s look at the nutrient-supplying potential of manure. It all starts with figuring out where manure comes from. Read more »

A role for agricultural landscapes in conserving wildlife – Part 1

Posted by Andrew Shirk | August 17, 2017

Andrew Shirk, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, co-authored this post with Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University.

Conservation Reserve Program field in Douglas County, Washington. Photo: Michael Schroeder.

Healthy ecosystems provide us with clean water, clean air, and rich soils, resources that help meet our needs and fuel our economies. They also support many wildlife species. If we can consider those animals as an indication of the state of these ecosystems, things look grim globally. We are losing species at least 100 times faster than what’s been the norm, based on the fossil record. Currently, 1 out of every 4 mammal species and 1 out of every 8 bird species is under threat of extinction, with more species becoming threatened each year. One of the main reasons for these grim numbers is loss of habitat, and growing crops on what was their habitat has contributed to that. But agriculture is also key to providing for our needs and fueling our economies. So can agricultural landscapes contribute to both food production and habitats? From our experience with Greater Sage-Grouse conservation in eastern Washington, we’d argue that the answer is yes. Read more »

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 »

Organic Farming Continues to Expand

Posted by David Granatstein | July 10, 2017

Organic hops, research trial of cover crops. Yakima Valley. Photo: D. Granatstein.

It’s hard for much to make the news other than politics these days.  But the world keeps on turning, we keep on eating, and growers keep trying to meet consumer demand. Two recent CSANR reports provide updates on organic trends – one on the organic sector in Washington State in general, and one specifically on organic tree fruit.

In 2016, demand for organic foods grew once again reaching a new high of $43 billion of retail sales in the U.S. Sales grew at 8.4% over the previous year, a bit lower than the 10-12% annual growth since 2009. Global organic food sales were estimated at $81.6 billion in 2015 (the most recent year); U.S. sales made up 48% of this, with Europe accounting for 39%. Sales in Asia reached 8% and have been steadily increasing. Details on global organic trends can be found at World of Organic Agriculture . The most recent national sales summary is at the Organic Trade Association. Read more »

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