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Cover crop best bet is monoculture, not mixture

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 21, 2016
Can you see 17 species in this cover crop mix? Photo: A. McGuire.

Can you see 17 species in this cover crop mix? Photo: A. McGuire.

Cover crops are great. If I thought I could get away with it, I would just grow cover crops in my garden. They protect the soil, feed microbes, build soil structure, add root channels, and support beneficial insects. I think they look cool too. When cover crop mixtures got popular a few years ago, I got excited and grew a 17 species mix. It looked really cool, I mean, diverse, with all sorts of seeds that became all sorts of plants.  I took pictures, showed my kids, and even had a neighborhood open garden event! (Well, maybe not that last one) Then I grew some vegetables after the cover crop. They did OK. Just OK. I wanted it to be the best tomato/squash/cucumber/lettuce crop ever, but I could not tell the difference between these vegetables and those I had grown after many previous un-biodiverse cover crops. Recent research results may explain this. Read more »

Farm Incubator Programs Offer Strong Foundation

Posted by Janel Davisson | December 14, 2016

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth 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.

orchard-picMy name is Janel Davisson, I am a senior at WSU in the Organic Agriculture program. I attended the Tilth Conference last year in Spokane and I was excited to get the opportunity to go again. Last year I really enjoyed the varied topics of discussion and the practical knowledge that was shared, and was looking forward to hearing from people working in their field of passion.

This year in Wenatchee one of the workshops I attended was on farm incubators by Kate Smith, a graduate student at WSU. The current studies on incubator farms are miniscule at best, partly due to the infancy of this program. The goal of these farms is to introduce new farmers into the system and get them a solid foundation to begin their farming careers. Going into this workshop I had an elementary knowledge of what an incubator farm entailed. I knew that larger farms would lease out small plots of land to up and coming farmers and provide infrastructure and knowledge shared by landlords and other incubator farmers. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which these farms provide for the new farmers. Viva Farms in Mount Vernon not only provides the land, but they also work with the local school to provide an in-class education and on-farm practicum on how to run a farm. One of the biggest surprises to me was that they also subsidize capital loans to the farmers to help them get started. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
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Resiliency achieved by sustainable agriculture

Posted by Corina Serban | December 5, 2016

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth 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.

corinaMy name is Corina Serban, and I am currently working towards my Master of Science in the Horticulture department at Washington State University. Attending the Tilth Conference for the first time gave me an ideal opportunity to network with other professionals and learn a lot from the workshops presented.

This year’s conference focused on change and resiliency. It brought ideas and people that inspire organic and sustainable farming. I personally found this event to be valuable to me as a Horticulture graduate student. Through my research, I want to contribute to the development of pre- and postharvest management strategies to reduce physiological disorders related to calcium deficiencies on ‘Honeycrisp’ apples. Even though my research approach is on conventional orchards, I have always had a passion to know more about organic and sustainable tree fruit production. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed being in the natural world and had my own garden. I grew up with values that show how important is the respect for the land and the care that is an integral part of growing healthy and nutritious crops. After sharing my ideas with others who were passionate as well about organic and sustainable agriculture, I felt like I was in the right place.  I could express my opinions and learn about new ideas and technologies in sustainable agriculture. Read more »

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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 »

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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How useful are models anyway? An example, now open for public comment

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | July 14, 2016
Cover of the draft 2016 Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast Legislative Report, currently available for public comment.  Click image for link.

Cover of the draft 2016 Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast Legislative Report, currently available for public comment. Click image for link.

Water, water everywhere… but will it continue to be there in the future? Will it be available when we need it? Or do we need to invest in projects or policies now, because the water in the future will not be the same as in the past? These are the issues that the collaborative research team working on the 2016 Columbia River Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast are using models to address, at the direction of the Office of the Columbia River (OCR, part of the Washington Department of Ecology) and the Washington State Legislature.

Preliminary model results were presented at three public workshops in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane in late June, and the draft report is available for public comment on OCR’s website until July 20, 2016. Here’s the summary of changes in water supply projected by this research:

  • Average annual supply of water for all uses across the Columbia River Basin down to Bonneville Dam is expected to increase around 12% by 2035.
  • That water would be available earlier in the spring than it has been in the past: water supply between November and May is projected to increase by almost 30%, while water supply between June and October is projected to decrease almost 11%.

Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Sustainability
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Organic Farming Provides Ecosystem Service and Solves Weed Problems

Posted by Andrew McGuire | April 14, 2016

In nearly all surveys of organic farmers their top priority for research is weed control. Weeds are a tough problem to solve, but with creativity and spunk, researchers in Spain have done it! In their 2016 paper, “Arable Weed Decline in Northeast Spain: Does Organic Farming Recover Functional Biodiversity?” Chamorro et al. provide a unique glimpse into the sort of thinking it will take to move agriculture to a different place. In a series of unanticipated turns, the authors lead us down a path to weed-free agriculture.

First, they contend that weeds are misunderstood. Weeds, as the paper admits, are a bane of agriculture, reducing yields as they do, but in a subtle departure, we are then told “The role of weeds in agroecosystems has been largely debated.” From this debate, the authors conclude that “the role of weeds is manifold”; weeds are not just yield-robbing competitors of crops, they also provide an “ecosystem service.” Read more »

2016 BIOAg Projects

Posted by Chad Kruger | April 7, 2016
B. Gerdeman will study the potential of predatory flies as pest control in raspberry for spotted wing drosophila (pictured). Photo: H. Burrack, NCSU, Bugwood.org via Flickr CC.

B. Gerdeman will study the potential of predatory flies as pest control in raspberry for spotted wing drosophila (pictured). Photo: H. Burrack, NCSU, Bugwood.org via Flickr CC.

Each year CSANR runs a solicitation for new research and extension proposals called the BIOAg program. This program has proven to be a critical factor in the success of CSANR Affiliated Faculty in establishing successful new projects and initiatives that address sustainability concerns for Washington’s food and agriculture system.

This program is the primary mechanism we have for engaging new WSU faculty in sustainable and organic agricultural research. This round we funded 7 projects (28% of proposed projects) covering berries, grapes, apples, vegetables, livestock and grains. The 7 projects represented 9 faculty investigators new to the BIOAg Program, representing Crop & Soil Sciences, Horticulture, Biological Systems Engineering, and Entomology. All 7 funded projects have a relationship with the priority area of improving soil quality. A list of funded projects is in the table below, and you can read more details on each of the projects here: http://csanr.wsu.edu/grants/2016/. Read more »

The Promise of Agriculture

Posted by Elisha Ondov | February 23, 2016

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

Elisha Ondov, student guest-blogger.

Elisha Ondov, student guest-blogger.

My name is Elisha Ondov (pronounced E-lie-shuh). I am a student at Washington State University who, in November 2015, attended my first Tilth Producers conference in lovely Spokane. There I was introduced to the wickedly cut-throat world of the farming industry as I felt a little misplaced. A lot of people I spoke to (mostly students at WSU) wondered what brought me, a civil engineering student, to the conference. They thought I was lost, and I think they were right.

My time at the conference was quite an enjoyable atmosphere, but you get out what you put into it. As a socially reserved civil engineering student, it was fairly limited through my perspective. I am not a businessman with a product to sell. I don’t do agricultural research in a lab. I have been living in dormitories, so no yard to cultivate, and every aspect of my life does not support a farming lifestyle from family to friends and finances. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability
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Lessons for the student and the grower in me

Posted by Griffin Berger | February 8, 2016

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.

Berger head shot crop

Griffin Berger, student guest-blogger.

My name is Griffin and I am a student at WSU majoring in both fruit and vegetables management and field crop management, and minoring in organic agriculture and horticulture. This year I attended the Tilth Producers of Washington Conference. The Tilth Conference is an event centered on sustainable agriculture and natural resources held in November that does not fail to deliver. The conference provides an environment for industry leaders, government agencies, educators, researchers, Ag companies, farmers, and students to have an open dialogue. The conference was a great place to share ideas, express opinions, and learn about upcoming and new ideas and technologies in the sustainable farming industry. Read more »

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