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Narrowing the Conventional Versus Organic Farming System Yield Gap

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | December 9, 2014

Nearly everyone agrees that producing ample, nutritious and safe food to feed 9 billion people, with minimal harm to the environment, is one of mankind’s grand challenges. In the May 14, 2014 issue of National Geographic, Jonathan Foley sets out a thoughtful, five-step plan that highlighted these imperatives:

  • “Freeze agriculture’s footprint” (e.g., stop clearing tropical rainforests),
  • “Grow more on the farms we’ve got” (close the yield gap, more multi-cropping),
  • “Use resources more efficiently” (help farmers “get smarter”),
  • “Shift diets” (more fresh fruits and veggies, less grain-fed meat), and
  • “Reduce waste” (25% food calories wasted; 50% of food by weight). Read more »

Analyzing Near Your Own Roots

Posted by Mary Stewart | December 8, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Mary Stewart - student guest blogger

Mary Stewart – student guest blogger

At the 2014 Tilth Producers of Washington Conference I attended Dr. Susan Kerr’s workshop on parasites in farm animals. Worms especially are a serious problem in ruminants, notably sheep and goats. Slide after slide, Dr. Kerr showed sheep suffering anemia, bottle jaw and diarrhea. Ultimately such conditions can lead to death. Unfortunately, parasites cannot be eliminated, but they can be reduced to an insignificant or inconsequential level in the herd. There are several steps farmers can take to prevent their animals from becoming infected. Some practices are: rotational grazing, kidding or lambing during intensely cold weather, preventing overgrazing (minimum height of grasses at 3.5 inches), letting animals out after morning dew dries and performing fecal egg counts for each animal. Read more »

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Flexibility and Sustainable Agriculture

Posted by Jesse Wimer | December 1, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Jesse Wimer, student guest blogger

Jesse Wimer, student guest blogger

My recent participation in the Tilth Producers of Washington annual conference helped me pin down an idea that, for some reason, has taken me awhile to articulate. The idea is a simple one, and may seem like a no brainer – in fact, is a no brainer – once I took some time to think about it.

As a grad student in the Department of Horticulture here at WSU, I sometimes think back and try to reconstruct the steps that led me to where I am. For 10 years now I have been chasing sustainable agriculture. My journey began as a history major, sifting through 19th century Russian literature, trying to make sense of historic struggles over land rights and ownership. I moved on to organic farming in Montana, taking refuge in a turn-of-the-century barn and a mouse-ridden trailer. After scraping in the soil for a few summers I went back to school as an undergrad, hoping that the institution would help me figure something out. Sometime later I moved on to grad school. Read more »

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Traditional Agroecological Knowledge: Where Does Cultural Wisdom Lie?

Posted by Bertie Weddell | November 6, 2014
Gambian baboon.  Photo: Tim Ellis via Flickr CC.

Gambian baboon. Photo: Tim Ellis via Flickr CC.

Near the beginning of Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Alex Haley mentions dietary taboos among his Gambian ancestors. Eating monkeys, baboons, bullfrogs, wild pigs, and eggs of wild birds was forbidden. When I first read that passage, a good many years ago, I thought those taboos were wasteful superstitions. Much later, I wondered whether the taboos played a role in conservation, or whether they had other functions, such as promoting group cohesion, that were opaque to me. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society
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On why I might be wrong

Posted by Chad Kruger | November 4, 2014

In two prior posts (threats and variability), based on our research, I have argued that climate change is not likely to be a major cause for concern for agricultural production in the Pacific Northwest until at least mid-century. A little bit of warming and a little bit of CO2 elevation is actually positive for most crops in the PNW. In this post, I’m going to tell you why I might be wrong. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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Promoting Global Food Security One Crop of Tomatoes at a Time

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | October 23, 2014
Photo: C. Benbrook

Photo: C. Benbrook

In early September I visited a remarkable organic farm on the coast of California.  This farm has been in organic production for about 30 years, and its harvests of mostly organic tomatoes have been marketed through a variety of outlets in Northern California.

I arrived on the day picking had just begun on a sloping tomato field about 6 acres in size.  The crop was exceptionally clean, with virtually no insect damage and few weeds.  Minimal, organically approved control measures had been used, including applications of sulfur and releases of trichogramma (beneficial wasps), along with many hours of hand weeding.

Read more »

Precision nitrogen can benefit both farmers and the climate

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | October 21, 2014

In a previous post, I explained that available evidence currently indicates nitrous oxide emissions may be fairly low in the inland Pacific Northwest, compared to other cropland agricultural systems in the U.S. and world. If ongoing research confirms these early results, then I suggested that efforts to reduce nitrous oxide emissions need to focus on strategies that offered strong co-benefits. Read more »

Agriculture Requires Fertilizer Inputs, and That’s Good

Posted by Andrew McGuire | October 16, 2014
Harvest is an export of nutrients.  Photo: S. Bauer, USDA

Harvest is an export of nutrients.
Photo: S. Bauer, USDA

On a brown, August-dry field in Eastern Washington, a farmer in a combine cuts a 24-foot swath across a field of wheat. The harvested grain then begins a journey, first to the storage bin, then to the local elevator, on rail to a flour mill, by truck to a bakery, by oven to bread, and by car to a home where it is eaten. This is good; our foremost mandate to agriculture is to produce food. However, with this successful export of food from farm fields to nearby and distant cities comes a problem: the nutrients in the bread, the nutrients that we need from food, and that plants need to grow, are now far from the field they came from. How do we replace them?

High yields, which we want, increase the problem.  A typical irrigated winter wheat field will yield 140 bushels per acre; about 5,600 loaves of bread. For a center pivot circle of 100 acres, the nutrients in those loaves amount to 182 pounds of N, 70 of P2O5 and 49 of K2O and smaller amounts of other essential nutrients that do not have to be replaced every year. All this ends up somewhere else (in people’s bodies or in sewage treatment plants); it will not be returned to the field1. Read more »

Is PNW warming human caused or not? Does it matter to agriculture?

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 29, 2014

The observed temperature records of the US Pacific Northwest show a small, but statistically significant amount of warming of just over 1 degree F since the year 1900. A paper published in March of this year by Abatzaglou, Rupp and Mote (2014) used a multiple linear regression model to “tease out” the contributions of different influences on climate and “to apportion trends to internal climate variability, solar variability, volcanic aerosols, and anthropogenic forcing [a.k.a. human greenhouse gas emissions]”. Unsurprisingly, the finding of this study was as expected:

Anthropogenic forcing was a significant predictor of, and the leading contributor to, long-term warming; natural factors alone fail to explain the observed warming.

Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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FY15 BIOAg Request For Proposals released

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 25, 2014

BIOAg logoThis week, CSANR released its annual BIOAg Program request for proposals for new research and extension projects. The RFP can be found here.

This competitive grant program is the key mechanism that CSANR has to engage a broad, interdisciplinary spectrum of WSU faculty in projects that further the development, understanding, and use of biologically intensive and/or organic principles, practices, and technologies to improve the sustainability of agriculture and food systems in Washington State. Read more »

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