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Closing the Nutrient Loop

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | July 2, 2014

There are a number of sustainability issues getting a fair amount of attention these days: climate change, regional and local food systems, and soil health, to name a few. While this is obviously good, there are also issues that may be getting somewhat less attention than they deserve. And closing the nutrient loop is one of these. Read more »

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Cold + Dry = Winterkill : 2013-14 Winter in Review

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 18, 2014

Remember last winter? As June warms and temperatures in the 90s are in the forecast, it may be hard to recall, but here in the Columbia Basin, it was dry with a few notable cold spells. That combination of cold and dry can be hard on plants, agricultural and ornamental.

Plants, both annuals and perennials, from wheat to lavender, alfalfa to ziziphus, vary in their ability to survive winter conditions. However, there are three factors that combined to make last winter a “hard winter.” Read more »

When engineering a green solution has gone too far…

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 12, 2014

I’ve seen a lot of crazy ideas in the realm of agricultural technology and even toyed with a few crazy ideas myself. Crazy ideas seem to have an appeal in our society that exceeds any rational expectation for the likely success or concern regarding the downside of any given technology. Perhaps this is because people are always looking for the next revolutionary technology like tractors, hybrid seeds, and solar fence electrifiers. Or perhaps it’s because we’re hard-wired to expect technological silver bullets to solve distinctly human problems. In fact, I suspect the reason that our own crazy (and not quite perfect) idea for a household-scale biogas reactor is among the most visited pages on the CSANR website is because it conjures up images of this infamous science fiction idea:

Who wouldn’t want to have that? 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 »

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.

Read more »

Greening Up with Cover Crops for Yield and Sustainability

Posted by David Granatstein | February 24, 2014

I had the good fortune to attend the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, Nebraska recently.  Soil health is in the limelight these days, with a new soil health initiative at the USDA-NRCS, a new Soil Health Partnership from the National Corn Growers Association, another soil health initiative from the Noble Foundation, and several recent meetings on soil health here in the Northwest including a session at the Washington State Horticulture meeting last December and a day-long soil quality workshop in Mt. Vernon.  Read more »

Prioritizing Soil Quality Research – What exactly does that mean?

Posted by Chad Kruger | February 10, 2014

Interest in “soil quality” (a.k.a. soil health) has grown rapidly over the past decade regardless of agricultural production system or geographical region. While there have been focused efforts on soil conservation in the past, there seems to be a growing consensus that agriculture at large has historically undervalued the important role that soils can play in improving sustainability. Some of these functions include disease suppression, nutrient cycling, and water management. Read more »

Do Farm Bills Drive or Deter Change?

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 5, 2014

Farm bills over the last forty years have shaped today’s agriculture systems and technology.  They have done so by setting the “rules of the road” and defining or shaping research and investment priorities.

The new farm bill provides farmers, agribusiness, rural communities, and the food industry a more stable policy framework in which to make investment and planting decisions.  But my sense is this farm bill could mark a historically significant inflection point. Farm bills since the 1970s have tried to become more market-driven, by lessening the impact of USDA farm programs on the choices made by farmers.  Read more »

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