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New Ideas for Improving the Resilience of Semi-Arid Systems

Posted by Karen Hills | March 15, 2018

Karen Hills and CSANR Associate Director, Georgine Yorgey co-wrote this post.

Wheat field under blue skies with scattered white clouds

Dryland areas are historically used for wheat production. Photo: USDA, ARS.

Across the dryland areas of the inland Pacific Northwest, soil erosion and the use of near monocultures of wheat have long been serious sustainability challenges, ones that we have been working on for decades, including over the last seven years through regional collaborations. Reducing or eliminating tillage has been one important strategy for reducing erosion across the region in recent decades.  Improving diversity by including crops such as canola, peas, chickpea and quinoa in rotations is another approach, but across the inland Pacific Northwest from 2007-2014, 53% of dryland crop acreage was used for winter or spring wheat, while an additional 31% was fallow (meaning that to preserve moisture for the following crop, no crop was grown) (Kirby, E. et al., 2017). Read more »

Green Manures, The Other GM crops

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 13, 2018

logo that reads Green Manures with yellow arcs, green triangles pointing upward and brown triangles pointing downwardGreen manures have a lot in common with the other kind of GM crops (GMOs), though there are also some differences. Both green manures and GM crops produce pesticides in their plant cells, yet green manures are completely unregulated. Both are “unnatural” uses of crops, yet nobody argues about green manures. Conventional farmers use green manures, but unlike GM crops, so do organic farmers. Green manures require tillage, but GM crops make no-till easier. Monsanto and other multinational seed companies do not produce GM green manure crops, but they should.

If brown manures are livestock-processed crop biomass, then green manures are their raw, unprocessed predecessors. A green manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while still green. Unlike brown manures, the biomass is grown in place and is used in place with no transport costs. Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
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Crop residue–Help or hindrance?

Posted by Karen Hills | January 25, 2018

The production of crop residue varies dramatically across the Inland Pacific Northwest, with estimated residue production for winter wheat ranging from roughly 0.9 ton/acre in the drier grain-fallow cropping system (Figure 1) to 8.5 ton/acre in the wetter annual crop system, which has enough precipitation to support cropping every year. Crop residues are often seen as simply something to “manage” so that they don’t impede future plantings or as a byproduct that can be sold to help improve the bottom line. However, while editing chapters for the recently released publication Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I was introduced to another way to think about these residues in the chapter in that publication titled “Crop Residue Management” (.pdf). The lead author, Haiying Tao from Washington State University, and her co-authors make the interesting point that crop residues should be seen as a valuable resource and that there’s an important tradeoff that should be considered before exporting them from the farm. Residues not only serve a critical role in protecting soils from wind and water erosion between crops, they also add carbon and nutrients back to the soil, improving soil health and helping to maintain its productivity over time. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Sustainability
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Less for grain, but YES for produce – My trip to Tilth

Posted by Cody Holland | January 23, 2018

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference. We have posted reflections written by the students over the past several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Cody Holland head shot

Cody Holland

I’d like to preface this blog post by thanking WSU CSANR and Tilth Alliance for generously supporting the costs of my trip to Vancouver. Fact is, I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. As a full-time student, it’s all too easy to stay ‘on-rails’—incentivizing constructive risks, like trekking to an interdisciplinary conference—is chicken soup for the student soul. But now I’m mixing metaphors.

My expectations were essentially ‘nil’ preceding the conference: maybe I’d meet a future employer; “gee, never been to Vancouver before”; “with a name like Tilth, it’s got to be good”; conference SWAG. I’d examined the seminar docket ahead of time – looked an awful lot like a WSU syllabus: The View From 400 Feet: Sensors and Analytics in Precision Agriculture, From Farm Worker to Farm Owner: Experiences of Latino Farmers Across Washington, Produce Processing Capacity in Washington State for Farmers and Buyers, etc., etc. Alas, WSU CAHNRS does its job too well! Read more »

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Organic Waste

Posted by Khalid Almesfer | January 18, 2018

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will post reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Khalid Almesfer head shot

Khalid Almesfer

My name is Khalid Almesfer, and I have a Master’s Degree in Soil Science. Now, I am PhD student in Soil Science at Washington State University (WSU).I watched how desertification and pollution were affecting agricultural land in my country (Saudi Arabia) and I decided to study soil science (soil chemistry) as a major in college. I had always felt that I was inclined to this kind of study. In addition to this, I found that there is a growing need for specialists in this field who could implement and advance scientific skills in soil chemistry, which is very important in my country, which is witnessing an accelerated development in all agricultural sectors.  I also participated in different research projects including a survey on soil resources and water quality evaluation in Southern Tihama plains, Saudi Arabia in 2004-2008, and an integrated survey for natural forests in the western and southwestern regions of Saudi Arabia in 2000-2003. I participated in a study on evaluation of soil pollution around Mahad AD’ Dahab Mine and also participated in a baseline of secondary treated sanitary waste-water irrigation at Al-Kafji Joint Operation, and in the evaluation of pollutants in agricultural soils, together with evaluation of soil degradation (features and causes) in some irrigated agricultural soils in Saudi Arabia. Read more »

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It is not just feeding our families

Posted by Esther Rugoli | January 16, 2018

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will post reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Esther Rugoli head shot

Esther Rugoli

My name is Esther Rugoli, and I am in my second year in Agriculture Biotechnology at Washington State University. It was my first time to hear about The Tilth Conference, and it was such great chance to attend in Vancouver, Washington.

I am from the Rwanda, and most farmers in my country grow food to feed their families and they are left with little or none to sell. Now the number of commercial farmers is increasing, but there is still the problem of food insecurity in my country. I always think of agriculture in a business-based manner because in the future I want to see my country growing more food at a commercial scale. Before I attended The Tilth Conference, I was less informed and thought organic farming was all about growing few crops for food with your family. I could not think of a farmer growing organic food and still producing enough to put on a large market. Read more »

It is a Lifestyle, not just a cultivation pattern

Posted by Adel Almesmari | January 11, 2018

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will post reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Adel Almesmari head shot

Adel Almesmari

My name is Adel Almesmari, and I have a Master’s Degree in Horticulture. I am presently working towards my Ph.D. in the Horticulture department at Washington State University. This is my second time consecutively to attend the Tilth Conference and it was a pleasure again this year in Vancouver, Washington.

My expectations for the second time attending the Tilth Conference included having the opportunity to communicate with professionals and farmers, also learning from workshops. This year’s conference focused on many themes including sustainable systems, farm business, special topic workshops, and marketing workshops, but I was interested in my area in particular, which is sustainable systems. This event brought ideas and people from different trends to understand sustainable and organic farming. Read more »

Toward sustainable agriculture

Posted by Abdelsalam Aldrmon | January 9, 2018

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will post reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Abdelsalam Aldrmon head shot

Abdelsalam Aldrmon

My name is Abdelsalam Aldrmon. I am from Libya and I earned my master’s degree in environmental science from Omar Al-Mukhtar University Libya. I have been a PhD student at WSU in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences for two years. I am most interested in issues related to agriculture and the environment. Now I am working on a project: Designer Biochar to Improve Soil Hydraulic Properties, Chemical Properties and Crop Productivity.

My expectations before attending the Tilth Conference were like any other conference and I was looking forward to topics related to sustainable agriculture. The best session for me was the first session, sustainable systems. What really aroused my interest was the diverse audience including students, farmers, marketers, scientists, and others, not like any conference I had previously attended. I think that what made the Tilth Conference distinctive. Read more »

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Reflections on Tilth

Posted by Sean Hulbert | January 3, 2018

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will post reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Sean Hulbert head shot

Sean Hulbert

The 2017 Tilth Conference was a very informative and memorable experience for me! First a little background information: I am the son of a third-generation farmer and soon to become the fourth in the Skagit Valley! I spoke to my parents beforehand about the conference and they did not know anyone who would be attending so I was going in with the expectation that I would meet new companies/people. Boy was I wrong; instead I was instantly recognized by name as many of the Tilth members had farmed or worked in the Skagit Valley. Many of whom work with the WSU Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. This was a great experience and made the conference very enjoyable for me as we shared stories of farming and living in the Skagit River Delta. Read more »

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How will climate change affect pests of inland Pacific Northwest cereal systems?

Posted by Karen Hills | December 13, 2017

Cover image of book: Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest. Washington State University Extension. EM108. Background image is rolling field of green at sunset with pink cloudsModels suggest that climate change in our region will involve an annual temperature increase of 3-4°F by the 2050’s, accompanied by changes in precipitation patterns, including drier summers despite a 5-15% increase in annual precipitation (Kruger et al. 2017). Even with this information, uncertainty still exists about what climate change will mean for agriculture, in general, and for dryland farming systems in our region, in particular. The book Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest, does its part to help managers make decisions despite this uncertainty. Three chapters in this book explore management of diseases, insects, and weeds (the three major categories of pests) and were written by teams of authors led by Elizabeth Kirby (Washington State University), Sanford Eigenbrode (University of Idaho), and Ian Burke (Washington State University), respectively. Though these chapters provide a wide range of regionally-relevant information that goes far beyond climate, I found it particularly interesting to read through them with an eye to what farmers might expect in terms of changes in pest pressures as a result of projected changes in the climate. Through this process, I learned that although climate change models have improved vastly in recent years, quite a bit of uncertainty exists about the effects of climate change on complex biological systems. Read more »

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