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The Benefits of Combining Organic and Synthetic Nitrogen Sources

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 26, 2016

Dan Sullivan, OSU soil scientist, caught my attention during his presentation at the 2014 Building Soils for Better Crops workshop. Speaking about organic amendments and how to use them for both building soils and for nutrient supply to crops, Sullivan suggested that low nutrient organic amendments, like compost or composted manures, be used in combination with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. This combo, he said, has benefits over the use of either by itself.

Wheat could benefit from a combination of organic and synthetic nitrogen sources. Photo: USDA ARS

Wheat could benefit from a combination of organic and synthetic nitrogen sources. Photo: USDA ARS

The decomposition that produces compost reduces its nutrient content and stabilizes it. Because it has decomposed some, more of it will end up as soil organic matter than with fresh organic materials. When compost is applied to a field, it will continue to decompose slowly – faster as the soil warms up – releasing a slow stream of nitrogen into the soil solution.  If the compost is being used as a nitrogen source, this flow of nitrogen often cannot keep up with crop demand. One option is to use organic materials with higher amounts of available nitrogen, but these are very expensive; I found a liquid hydrolyzed fish product that could be applied through irrigation water, but it cost $17.76 per pound of nitrogen, over 20 times the price of synthetic fertilizer nitrogen. At this price, these materials make economic sense only for very high value organic crops. This is most likely why organic wheat, a lower value crop than organic vegetables or fruit, produces less grain with lower protein content than wheat produced with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (Seufert et al., 2012).

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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 »

Explore Anaerobic Digestion investment options before investing a cent! A Quick Introduction to the AD System Enterprise Budget Calculator

Posted by Gregory Astill | March 10, 2016

Gregory Astill, PhD Economics, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Economic Research Service or the USDA.

Photo: D. Story

Photo: D. Story

Ever struggled with deciding whether to invest in new technology, and which of a range of technology options would be a better fit to your operation? The Anaerobic Digester (AD) System Enterprise Budget Calculator is a tool that is intended for dairy owners, AD system industry experts, and AD researchers to explore such options. The tool will calculate the net present value of your investment in an AD system, under specific technology and price scenarios. And though we cannot guarantee that you will achieve the results generated by this tool, you can explore the economic benefits of different AD technologies. Just make sure that all price, input and output quantities, and other details accurately reflect your unique situation. Read more »

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Stripper headers – a new, cool tool for adapting to a changing climate (w/ video)

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | March 8, 2016
Adaptations can include new equipment to handle harvest differently, like the stripper header, mounted on this combine. Photo: H. Davis

Adaptations can include new equipment to handle harvest differently, like the stripper header, mounted on this combine. Photo: H. Davis

At this point, we have learned quite a bit about the likely implications of climate change for agriculture. A couple of good summaries of national implications and likely impacts in the Pacific Northwest are good places to start, if you want to get more detail.

Though significant questions remain, it’s clear that producers across our region will need to adapt to warmer and drier summers, warmer winters, and changes in when irrigation water is available. But what does that adaptation look like?  That’s the question we asked when we started the “Farmer-to-Farmer” case study series. We wanted to know what strategies forward-thinking farmers in our region are already using, that could enhance resilience in the face of climate change. And we wanted to look at strategies across a number of production systems in the Pacific Northwest—dryland and irrigated cropping systems, beef production, and dairies. Read more »

It is time to know your CROPTIME!

Posted by Adekunle Adesanya | January 19, 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.

Adekunle Adesanya, PhD student in entomology and guest-blogger.

Adekunle Adesanya, PhD student in entomology and guest-blogger.

In humans, after decades of research and innovation, it is still very tricky for medical practitioners to accurately predict a child’s delivery date. Though the doctors estimate delivery dates for expectant mothers, these dates are rarely exactly correct, despite the level of technology involved.

Predicting crop harvest time is not all that different from estimating due dates. Have you ever wondered how complex and challenging it could be to predict the precise harvest date of crops, especially for small scale farmers with limited resources to invest in specialized technologies to support on-farm decision making system? As with doctors and delivery due dates, farmers have an estimate of the time required for the plants to achieve some phenotypic attributes like flowering, fruit setting and ripening etc., but getting it exactly right is rare. This prediction is usually based on prior knowledge about the crop’s biology. However, plant growth and development is largely dependent upon elements of the immediate environment (temperature, light duration, humidity etc.). Thus, crop output in terms of quantity, quality, and timing is dependent on the micro-environment. Therefore for a typical small scale organic farmer, a big question is how to accurately and precisely predict the time period in which harvest is optimal. This is critical to meeting the volatile demand of customers in a timely way (CSA, food co-ops etc.). Read more »

Flow – what I learned about irrigation management

Posted by Alex Shih | January 7, 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.

Alex Shih, student guest-blogger.

Alex Shih, student guest-blogger.

This year was my first time attending Tilth Producers Conference and what an experience it was! I feel almost silly to have never attended in years past; the thought of the people, workshops, and opportunities that I’ve missed is almost distressing. The 2015 Tilth Producers Conference wasn’t just the first conference of its kind that I’ve attended, it was the first conference I’ve ever gone to and so in terms of expectations I really didn’t have any. Having never gone to any conference prior to Tilth was, perhaps, a good thing: I entered the conference as a blank canvas, absorbed everything I could, and left dotted by a rich, colorful array of knowledge and information. Read more »

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The State of Organic Seed and How it Changed Me

Posted by Samantha Beck | December 7, 2015

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.

Samantha Beck, student guest-blogger.

Samantha Beck, student guest-blogger.

When I entered the “State of Organic Seed” workshop Sunday afternoon of the 2015 Tilth conference I was a total skeptic. My previous learning had focused on the advantages of conventional farming and I had little education in the ways of organic or sustainable farming practices.

That is why when I had the opportunity to attend this conference in Spokane November 15th through the 17th I was both extremely excited but also very nervous. Not only was this my first conference, but it was also a conference with which my views didn’t totally align. As an Agricultural Biotechnology major here at Washington State University I’ve learned a lot about advances in agricultural sciences that have allowed for the use of genetic engineering in plants, otherwise known as GMOs. Up until the conference, I had come to appreciate this technology and believed it was the future of agriculture. Read more »

Schultz Legacy: Moving meat from farm to table

Posted by Marcy Ostrom | September 14, 2015
Tom Schultz conducting local market research at the San Juan Island Farmers Market

Tom Schultz conducting market research at the San Juan Island Farmers Market

This summer saw the retirement of long-time WSU San Juan County Extension director, Dr. Tom Schultz. Among many notable accomplishments, Tom was a national leader in applying the resources of extension to solving some of the most intractable problems facing local food systems. A plant pathologist by training, along the way Tom also became an expert in participatory community development. Through a process that took years to bear fruit, Tom and determined San Juan Islands citizens worked as part of the Lopez Community Land Trust to identify and break down barriers to local food production and consumption. A concern dating back to the 1990s was the lack of local USDA-inspected meat processing.  Island producers knew they had unique products that their neighbors and others looking for meat raised in a humane, healthy, and clean environment wanted to buy, yet the barriers seemed immense. Read more »

The Essentials of Sustaining Agricultural Production

Posted by Andrew McGuire | July 16, 2015

As a member of the Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, I work as an irrigated cropping systems agronomist working on ways to sustain agriculture (a professor I know promotes the use of tee shirts that say “I’m an AGRONOMIST – look it up!”). In doing this, I have come to realize that there are certain requirements that agriculture must meet to produce food and to keep producing food (yes, fiber too, and other non-food products, but mainly we are concerned with food production). I view these as a hierarchy, such that if the top requirement is not attained, the lower requirements do not mean much, but once the top requirement has been met, we can move to the next one, provided that how we do it does not threaten any of the requirements above it. Each component is required, but not sufficient; all of them are needed. Read more »

Monoculture vs. Polyculture Part II: “Straight up” beats “cocktails” for cover crop ecosystem services

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 11, 2015

Cover crop mixtures, known as “cocktails” by some, are being promoted as having benefits over cover crops planted as monocultures. As I described in Part I, I reviewed recent research results to get at the answer to the question, “are monocultures or polycultures better when it comes to cover crops?” I found that, for biomass production at least, monocultures were actually best (see Part I). Now, let’s look at other services provided by cover crops and compare polycultures and monocultures. (See an explanation of monocultures, polycultures, overyielding and transgressive overyielding here)

Is a single-species cover crop or a cocktail mixture planting the best choice? Photos: A. McGuire.

Is a single-species cover crop or a “cocktail” mixture the best choice? Photos: A. McGuire.

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