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A Good Harvest: Mendoza and Baird dazzle the Quincy Success Summit

Posted by Marcy Ostrom | November 22, 2016

oscar-romero-2016-iris-summit-logoAs shown in this logo designed by Quincy resident Oscar Romero, the theme of last Tuesday’s bilingual community summit held at the Quincy Junior High as “Seeding Success, Growing ONE Community.” A team of bilingual junior high students and faculty, along with local volunteers hosted over 160 community members in a discussion about how to protect our region’s land and water resources and build community health and prosperity.  “Fostering cross-generational relationships, a sense of belonging, and knowledge and resource sharing” were among the subjects highlighted in a collection of over 60 short stories submitted by local citizens. These essays, chronicling recent “successes” both large and small were used to inspire deliberation, celebration, and action in small work groups. Read more »

High Residue Farming Workshop for Irrigated Producers

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | November 21, 2016
Corn plants coming up among strips of wheat.  Photo: D. Kilgore.

Corn plants coming up among strips of wheat. Photo: D. Kilgore.

WSU Extension is hosting an upcoming workshop on the basics of High Residue Farming on November 30, 2016, 9:30-3:30 in Moses Lake.  Details for those interested in attending are available here (lunch included if you pre-register by 11/22).

High residue farming is a term that covers a number of different specific farming practices, including strip-till and direct seeding. In all these systems, the amount of tillage is reduced in order to maintain crop residues on the soil surface.  High residue farming provides a number of benefits, but two key ones include reducing wind erosion (and the need to replant sand-blasted crops) and reducing the amount of time and equipment needed to plant. It can also improve soil health, increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, and in some cases increase the potential for double-cropping. Read more »

The New Urban Indoor Industrial Agriculture… but Why?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | November 16, 2016
Vertical farm crop wall demonstration project. Where is the soil? Photo: State Dept. via Flickr cc

Vertical farm crop wall demonstration project. Where is the soil?
Photo: State Dept. via Flickr cc

There is a new style of urban agriculture appearing around the world. The efforts differ in details, but they all use buildings or structures not originally designed to grow plants – no greenhouses. Carried out in old shipping containers, warehouses, and high-rises, perhaps even in an old factory or two, these “farms” bring agriculture fully indoors. Without sunshine, these farms rely on artificial lights shining on plants 24 hours a day in some cases. Without soil, plants sit in plastic pipes, or float on polystyrene rafts, stacked in tiers.  Without rain, nutrient enhanced water is cycled to the plant roots through piping, pumps and filters. Without wind, fans provide ventilation, ducts and vents deliver heated or cooled air for year-round production.

All this requires energy. These farms are plugged in, reliant on outside power. Outdoor farm fields are off the grid, at least for the production portion of the food chain. Even a continuous corn crop, the scorned example of “industrial” agriculture, is not affected by a blackout. While an outdoor “industrial” crop is still subject to the biological realities of crop growth cycles and seasons, crop production in these indoor farms can be sped up and streamlined. All it takes is lots pipes and tanks, cables and lights. Read more »

Growing condition analogues – Understanding future climate through past experience

Posted by Kirti Rajagopalan | November 14, 2016
Though Appletown in this article is a theoretical location, producers sharing what practices work for them is a real source of information that can help others make decisions under uncertain future conditions. Photo credit: Scott Bauer/USDA, under CC BY 2.0

Though Appletown in this article is a theoretical location, producers sharing what practices work for them is a real source of information that can help others make decisions under uncertain future conditions. Photo credit: Scott Bauer/USDA, under CC BY 2.0

Weather is the most important driver of agricultural production. Year-to-year changes in the weather affect growing conditions, which then lead to important swings in yields, quality, timing and marketability of Pacific Northwest products such as apples, wheat, potatoes, and hay. In a similar way, changes in climate are leading to changes in growing conditions, and these changes also pose risks to production. Growing condition analogues are an approach to identifying and exploring past experiences that are relevant to understanding the risks expected in the future.

Over the years—and in some cases over generations—producers have refined their management practices to best address the complex interactions between the crops they grow and the wide range of growing conditions that determine the productivity and sustainability of their operation. These best practices are adapted to the local conditions and are continuously improved over the years, creating a rich body of location-specific agronomic knowledge. With the wide range of conditions that have occurred over the Pacific Northwest’s agricultural history—to say nothing of the range of conditions across different agricultural regions in North America—there’s a wealth of experiences out there that growers can tap into. The challenge is to know which experiences can help one determine how best to prepare for what the future will bring for one’s location. That’s where growing condition analogues come in. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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The Fallout of October Rains in the Desert

Posted by Andrew McGuire | November 1, 2016
Photo: C. Chene via Flickr cc.

Photo: C. Chene via Flickr cc.

Here in the Columbia Basin, something extraordinary has happened; it rained a lot in October. Although not technically a desert, we are normally desert-like from June-October. Not this year. How much rain did we get? Well, in Ephrata where I live, we have seen over 2.5 inches of rain. I know, not much, even by Inland Northwest standards. But 2.5” is record rainfall for us – never have we seen so much rain in October – and it has had some consequences.

They don’t often admit it, perhaps out of respect for dryland farmers to the East, but farmers in the Columbia Basin prefer to get their water out the end of a sprinkler. They like to control how much and when the water falls on their fields.  When it comes out of the sky, it messes things up. The rains have delayed harvest of late potatoes, onions, dry beans and other crops. Although I expect all these crops will be harvested, the wet ground and crops probably caused some yield losses, and equipment traffic on wet soils likely compacted soils which will require additional tillage to fix.

Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Sustainability
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Defending the Proper Use of Monoculture

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 27, 2016
Monoculture of dry edible beans. Photo: A. McGuire.

Monoculture of dry edible beans. Photo: A. McGuire.

Many bloggers have it wrong, Wikipedia had it wrong, and when I found that Agronomy Journal got it wrong, I was compelled to write on the topic once again. Monoculture is not the year-after-year production of the same crop in the same field. That is mono-cropping or continuous cropping, where the better alternative is crop rotation. Monoculture is “when only one crop species is grown in a field at a time” (Loomis and Connor, 1992), and the hard-to-manage alternative is polyculture or intercropping. You can take a picture of monoculture, but not of mono-cropping.

Just where this widespread misuse of “monoculture” started, I am not sure. It probably precedes the internet, and may have something to do with the similarity of monoculture and mono-cropping. More recently, Wikipedia played a part. For years it had a definition that combined the meanings of monoculture and mono-cropping. I suspect that this incorrect definition, and the fact that many people without agricultural backgrounds write about agriculture, has led to the widespread misuse we see today. Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
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Keep an eye on those pests! Vigilance and adaptability to climate change

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | September 12, 2016

I’m a “lumper” rather than a “splitter.” Give me lots of details on different crops, yields, pests, or weeds, and I’ll try to pull out some overarching idea to remember (I’m likely to forget the details). Luckily there are people who thrive on the details, as was made clear to me in a webinar given by Dr. Sanford Eigenbrode earlier this year, discussing climate change and insects in wheat systems.

Wheat infected with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Photo: Dr. Juliet Marshall, University of Idaho.

Wheat infected with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Photo: Dr. Juliet Marshall, University of Idaho.

Because I am a “lumper”, I’ll start with the overarching point I took away from the webinar: we (that is, entomologists like Dr. Eigenbrode, not me personally) know enough about the insect pests affecting wheat systems in the Pacific Northwest to know that different insects, the viruses they spread, and the parasitoids and predators that control them will respond differently to a changing climate. So while crop models suggest that wheat yields in our high latitudes will fare reasonably well as carbon dioxide concentrations increase and the climate warms, there is still a huge question mark related to whether insects and other pests will allow such yields to happen. Vigilance, and knowing what insects to pay particular attention to, can therefore make a big difference to wheat growers’ collective ability to respond and adapt to changes. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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Washington organic apples – nearly a billion strong!

Posted by David Granatstein | August 29, 2016
‘Gala’ apples being harvested as part of a WSU organic apple study in Wenatchee. Photo: D. Granatstein.

‘Gala’ apples being harvested as part of a WSU organic apple study in Wenatchee. Photo: D. Granatstein.

It is apple harvest time again in Washington State, albeit about two weeks earlier than normal in most places. This will be a large crop overall, and probably a record crop for organic apples. The projection is for a harvest of just over 11 million 40-pound boxes of organic apples. At 88 apples per box (a typical size), that’s over 950 million organic apples.  And while this sounds like a lot, if everyone in the US (say, 300 million people) ate one apple a day, that supply would be gone in less than four days. Still, demand is growing by around 10-12% per year, according to the annual surveys done by the Organic Trade Association. Based on data from grocery store sales, apples are the number two fresh fruit sold by value (behind berries) for both conventional and organic. A major food retailer reported that their sales of organic apples increased nearly 50% in 2015 over the previous year, a huge jump. And average organic apple prices received by growers hit record highs last season. The total value of the packed organic apples was just under $400 million, with 70% or more going directly to growers. This is a substantial contribution to the state’s economy. Read more »

Orchard Netting: A Catch All for Climate Change Adaptation

Posted by Brendon Anthony | August 22, 2016

Brendon Anthony is pursuing a Master of Science in the Horticulture program at Washington State University.

As a child in elementary school I learned that the two basic requirements for the growth and success of a plant are sunlight and water. However, as I have undergone further schooling and research, specifically in horticulture, I have learned how extremely simplified those requirements are. In reality, it takes numerous inputs and extensive management to steward the growth of a plant.

Honeycrisp apples like these are an important tree fruit crop in the state. Photo: D. Rivard via Flickr c.c.

Honeycrisp apples like these are an important crop to the PNW tree fruit industry. Photo: D. Rivard via Flickr c.c.

Though sunlight and water are not the full picture, they are certainly foundational. In the face of a changing climate with more extreme and unpredictable weather, they are resources that are becoming more and more challenging to preserve, utilize, and control. How to best manage sunlight and water is being investigated and tested by the Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry. This is an industry that relies on consistent temperatures both in the winter to facilitate dormancy, and during the growing season to prevent frost damage or sunburn. It is an industry that uses gallons upon gallons of water to ensure a high yield. So, how does an industry so dependent upon these crucial resources react to a rapidly changing climate, all while maintaining sustainability in their pocket books and in their surrounding environment? Read more »

Biosolids – understanding benefits and risks

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | August 16, 2016
Biosolids being spread on agricultural fields. Photo: A. Bary.

Biosolids being spread on agricultural fields. Photo: A. Bary.

Biosolids?  Yes, that means sewage sludge.  Well, sort of.  But before you say YUCK and click off the page, let’s start with what they really are: biosolids are the materials produced from digestion of sewage at city wastewater treatment plants. They are rich in plant nutrients such as organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, and can be applied to wheat, alfalfa, and timber land for plant fertilization and soil conditioning. When biosolids are applied at rates that meet plant nutrient needs, farmers and researchers are seeing crop yields equal to or greater than those seen with synthetic fertilizer. Applying biosolids as fertilizer also allows them to be recycled for a useful purpose rather than disposed of in landfills or incinerated.

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