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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.

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

Green 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 »

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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

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

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 »

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

Posted by Karen Hills | December 13, 2017

Models 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 »

Cover crop monocultures continue to best mixtures; 2017 Update

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 12, 2017

About a year ago I declared in a post, “Cover crop best bet is monoculture, not mix.” It stirred up quite a few comments and discussion, but no scientific evidence that countered my assertion. Nevertheless, research continues, so I have followed results as they have been published over the last year. Here is an update.

Is research finding any benefits of cover crop mixtures? Photo: A. McGuire.

Read more »

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Tillage: When Less Is More

Posted by Karen Hills | December 5, 2017

Though severe erosion can quickly deplete topsoil, rebuilding topsoil is an extremely difficult and slow process, so conserving this resource is imperative. Soil erosion is one of the biggest challenges in agricultural production in the inland Pacific Northwest. Conventional tillage can lead to soil degradation and erosion by wind and water, which can cause concerns for air and water quality, respectively. Conservation tillage—a tillage system which retains residues from the previous crop on the surface, resulting in at least 30% coverage of the soil surface after the planting of the next crop—can dramatically reduce soil erosion. It also offers other benefits, such as improvements in soil quality (Figure 1) and reduced fuel use, allowing it to be widely adopted in some parts of the region. There are many types of conservation tillage used in the Pacific Northwest, which offer different levels of protection of the soil, all the way up to no-till, which results in minimal soil disturbance and maximum retention of soil residue. These differences in practices, as well as other factors, have led to variations across the region in how effective (and profitable) conservation tillage has been. Fortunately, a new resource is available that digs into these differences and why they occur. Read more »

Real-life agricultural innovation: implications for future preparedness

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | December 4, 2017

Extension has traditionally involved getting results from researchers to decision-makers in agriculture. Partly because I work on climate change and agriculture, and partly because of the approach my team and the researchers we work with take, extension is, for us, a two-way street. In this article I want to highlight the “other” side of that street: how innovations that producers test out in real life complement research and supports future preparedness.

Both John Aeschliman (left) and Douglas Poole (right) practice no-till, though they farm with very different precipitation regimes. Photo: Alex Garland.

In preparation for a new project I reviewed case studies and profiles others I work with published as part of the Regional Approaches to Climate Change – Pacific Northwest Agriculture (REACCH-PNA) project, which focused on dryland cereal production in a changing climate. These case studies tell the stories of producers who are implementing practices that break some mold, and that is leading to both interesting results and to benefits that will help them be prepared for future climates. Here I highlight the startling similarities in the stories of two farmers that farm in different precipitation zones. John Aeschliman farms in Colfax, Washington, with a range of precipitation up to 18+ inches annually. Doug Poole farms in Mansfield, Washington, with half that precipitation. Both these farmers are innovative pioneers, and transitioning to no-till is a cornerstone of their innovations. And both no-till and innovation have implications for preparing for future climates. Read more »

Stepping back: What have we learned about agriculture and climate change, and where do we go from here?

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | November 29, 2017

Cattle grazing on an allotment east of the Owyhee River Canyon, Oregon. Used with permission via Flickr from the Bureau of Land Management (CC BY 2.0).

As a number of large climate-and-agriculture projects at our Pacific Northwest universities have come to an end over the last year, we felt it was time to step back and take stock.  Our projects have included dryland wheat farming, anaerobic digestion systems for dairies, and improving understanding of the interactions among carbon, nitrogen, and water at the regional scale. Now that they are complete, what have we learned? Where should research and extension go from here? In an effort to prioritize and catalyze future regional research and extension efforts, we worked with partners to host a workshop titled “Agriculture in a Changing Climate” (March 9-11, 2016). The event brought together a diverse set of stakeholders—university faculty and students, crop and livestock producers, and individuals representing state, tribal and federal government agencies, industry, nonprofit organizations, and conservation districts—to summarize what we know, identify challenges and gaps, and define priorities for moving forward. Since that workshop, a group of us have been working together to continue to synthesize recent research findings and identify priorities related to climate mitigation and adaptation in the Northwest, and the product of that work is now freely available as an online article. Read more »

Variability and Scale: Considerations for Precision Agriculture

Posted by Karen Hills | November 27, 2017

It is human nature to be entranced by the latest electronic gadget that promises to make our lives easier. Sometimes gadgets really do help us, and other times this help is counterbalanced by the hours spent trying to troubleshoot when things go wrong. Because I’m not really a “gadget person” by nature, I must admit that I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to precision agriculture during my time working in the world of agricultural research. However, I recently had the opportunity to learn more about this topic while helping to compile and edit the book Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest. By reading the chapter on Precision Agriculture co-authored by Bertie Weddell, Tabitha Brown, and Kristi Borrelli, I learned about two of the most important factors to consider when it comes to the use of precision agriculture technology: variability and scale. Read more »

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