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Summer nights are getting hotter faster than summer days. What does it mean for agriculture?

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 8, 2014

Nick Bond, the Washington State Climatologist, pointed out an interesting observation at a meeting I attended last week. For summers from 2000-2010, nighttime temperatures (T-min) in many locations in the Pacific Northwest have shown a strong warming trend while daytime temperatures (T-max) have shown a general cooling trend (Panel 1).   Each circle on the map is scaled based on the station’s temperature trend with red indicating increasing temperature and blue decreasing. This could be part of the reason I’ve had trouble sleeping at night in recent summers – more below!

Panel 1: Summer Min (nighttime) and Max (daytime) Temperatures: 2000-2010;   Source: http://www.climate.washington.edu/trendanalysis/

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Filed under Climate Change
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The disconnect between the production and consumption of food

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 5, 2014
photo: Kabsik Park

Photo: Kabsik Park

Over the past several months we’ve seen: a freak early-season snow storm in the Dakotas that killed tens of thousands of cattle that could take affected ranchers more than a decade to recover from, continued and expanding drought conditions in the corn belt of the Upper Midwest, extended drought cutting off irrigation water in the “produce basket” of the Central Valley of California, massively destructive storms and flooding in the Gulf Coast, and a deadly virus killing piglets in more than half the country. In spite of this, we’re just finally seeing reports that the price of food is creeping higher – a whopping 0.4% two months in a row! – with the increasing price of bacon the one most people are complaining about. Read more »

Concentrate Organic Matter at Surface to Improve Soils

Posted by Andrew McGuire | April 30, 2014
No-till corn with surface residues (photo: McGuire)

No-till corn with surface residues (photo: McGuire)

Organic matter is the key to soil quality, but building soil organic matter levels can be slow and expensive. There is an alternative. Research shows (Franzluebbers, 2002) many soil functions improve when organic matter is concentrated the top 2-3″ of the soil, and that, for many soils and environments, this may be the most effective way to improve soil quality. Read more »

From micro- to macro- : what are we ignoring in agriculture?

Posted by David Granatstein | April 28, 2014

Every now and then a news story or article really makes me stop and think.  I just listened to an interview on NPR on Monday, April 14, with Dr. Martin Blaser, infectious disease specialist and author of the new book “Missing Microbes.” He is the Director of the NYU Human Microbiome Program.  The microbiome refers to the diverse array of micro-organisms that live in or on our bodies. It turns out that some 70-90% of the cells in and on our body are not our own human cells – they are cells of various bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other critters we cannot see with our eyes or normally detect with any of our senses. Read more »

Scaling Up Organic Production to Lower Costs: Will Quality Suffer?

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | April 24, 2014

An April 19, 2014 blog post by NPR correspondent Dan Charles discusses Wal-Mart’s plans to develop a substantial new line of organic food products that will be sold at a 25% lower price than other organic brands. The story quotes individuals who question whether Wal-Mart will be able to deliver on the idea without hurting farmers or cutting corners and sacrificing organic integrity, but they may be underestimating the benefits of Wal-Mart’s economy of scale. Read more »

Climate Change or Climate Variability: which matters more for crop production in the PNW?

Posted by Chad Kruger | April 18, 2014

Several modeling studies have been conducted in recent years to estimate the potential impact of climate change on future crop production.  These studies generally indicate that the magnitude of the potential near-future impact (through 2050) is relatively modest for most crops in the Pacific Northwest – and usually somewhat positive.  Climate variability, on the other hand, already impacts crop yields at magnitudes equal to or greater than those projected for mid-century, and often in a very negative way.  So why do these studies focus on future climate if current climate seems to be the bigger concern? Read more »

Filed under Climate Change
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2014 BIOAg Projects Selected

Posted by Chad Kruger | March 6, 2014

Since 2006, CSANR has provided seed funding for 60 new organic and sustainable agriculture research projects in Washington State through our BIOAg Program. These projects range from topics such as soil quality, organic and biological crop protection, and breeding, to livestock-crop integration, food safety and nutrition, and alternative crops. Projects have been funded in a wide diversity of crop and livestock production systems in the state, including tree fruit, cereal grains, small fruits, vegetables, forages, dairy, and a variety of other livestock systems. Read more »

Ecosystems are Not Smart, We Are – Applications on the Farm

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 5, 2014
17 species cover crop seed blend

Cover crop seed blend of 17 species

In a recent post, I argued that we should cast aside the ideas of “balance of nature” and “nature knows best” in designing farming systems. If nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances, then there is no reason to “follow nature’s lead.”  But if we don’t, what are we left with? Read more »

Don’t Mimic Nature on the Farm, Improve it

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 3, 2014

Garden of Eden. Thomas Cole [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Behind many efforts to make agriculture more sustainable is the idea that our farming systems need to be more like nature. According to agroecologist Miguel Alteri, “By designing farming systems that mimic nature, optimal use can be made of sunlight, soil nutrients, and rainfall.” This strategy arises from a long history of thinking that there exists a “balance of nature.” This idea has greatly influenced how we look at nature1 and agriculture. In the latter case, it drives much of what is done in organic farming and agroecology, but also finds its way into no-till farming. Nonetheless, it is false, and because it is false we can abandon the restrictive “nature knows best” argument in designing agricultural systems. Instead, we can improve on nature.

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Reflections on the Science Breakthrough of the Year

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 27, 2014

Science MagazineIn its December 20, 2013 issue, the journal Science identified cancer immunotherapy as the science breakthrough of the year.  An editorial by the journal’s Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt explains the basis for the selection.

She notes that the war on cancer started 40 years ago and has had great success in treating some cancers, while others remain difficult to effectively combat. She also explains that as the baby boomer generation ages, cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality will almost assuredly increase – hence the need for new tools. Read more »

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