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Functionality of microbiome in the soil system

Posted by Likun Wang | May 1, 2017

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.

As a PhD student in the Department of Plant Pathology, I recently attended the Tilth Conference in Wenatchee, which provided me the opportunity to hear great presentations and spark my thinking on the topic of microbiomes. I am currently working on Brassica seed meal amendments for suppressing apple replant disease under the supervision of Dr. Mark Mazzola.  Several presentations, including one by Dr. Mazzola, were inspiring to me at the conference. Read more »

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Exploring Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Agriculture in the Northwest

Posted by Liz Allen | April 27, 2017

One of the best things about my work is that it connects me with researchers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds who are committed to conducting science that informs natural resource management decisions.  I’ve been fortunate to work with WSU researchers studying regional climate change impacts for nearly 6 years now, and over that time many of my academic colleagues have developed new skills related to communicating their research to diverse audiences. I’ve also witnessed scientists’ growing interest in learning from stakeholders who make decisions about managing agricultural and natural resources “out there in the real world”. Read more »

Let the worms do the work – Critters help dairies manage manure

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | April 18, 2017

Got milk? Dairies are in the milk business, but must also manage manure produced along the way, and the potentially useful nutrients it holds. Photo: NRCS in Oregon under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Managing manure is a big part of what goes on at the “back end” of a dairy. Doing it well is important to avoid impacts on surrounding neighbors due to odors, impacts on air and water quality, or the release of unnecessary amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane or nitrous oxides (which, by the way, are respectively 28 and 265 times more powerful as global warming “blankets” than carbon dioxide). There are multiple technologies being developed, tested, and used to improve manure management in dairies. These include anaerobic digestion, which produces bioenergy and helps reduce odors (we provided an overview about a year ago in this article). Nutrient recovery technologies are another aspect being studied. These are an array of different technologies that allow us to collect the potentially useful nitrogen and phosphorus found in manure, so it can be used productively rather than contributing to climate change or other issues. Read more »

Tilth Producers Annual Conference: The art of storytelling and its place in science

Posted by Zack Frederick | April 6, 2017

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.

The Tilth Producers annual conference represents a mix of growers, industry stakeholders, educators, and students, each with their own perspective on a variety of sustainable and organic farming practices. As is the case in any heterogeneous audience, the challenge for a presenter is to find a way to engage individuals with different learning styles and interests and spur thoughtful discussion, while relaying the nitty gritty detail in the data. This is not easy. Read more »

As soil becomes more alive, plants become more talkative

Posted by Aaron Appleby | March 30, 2017

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.

My name is Aaron Appleby; I am a senior at Washington State University, studying Organic Agriculture.  Living soil is a key aspect to sustainable farming, as it requires fewer inputs and promotes diversity amongst organisms, ensuring survival as different selection pressures are introduced. Carbon is essential for living organisms and although plants get their carbon from the air, the microorganisms that inhabit the soil need to ingest soil organic matter (SOM) to incorporate carbon into new cells and organic molecules for growth and reproduction.  Thus, the main benefit of increasing SOM is to the ability of the soil to sustain life, which in return provides nutrients plants can utilize to grow. Read more »

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Apples and cherries help grow apples and cherries: composting at Stemilt Orchard

Posted by Adel Almesmari | March 27, 2017

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.

My name is Adel Almesmari, and I have a Master’s Degree in Horticulture. I have been working for twelve years at the Libyan Department of Agriculture, three years at the Agriculture Research Center in Libya and three years as a faculty member at Omar Al-Mokhtar University, before traveling to the US. I am currently working towards my PhD in the Horticulture department at Washington State University. It was a pleasure to attend the 2016 Tilth Conference in Wenatchee, Washington. It is my first time attending the Tilth Conference, and attending this event provided the opportunity for me to communicate with experts and other professionals and I learned a lot from the workshops presented.

The Tilth conference was a diverse and wonderful event containing many quality sessions for participation. I cannot write about all that I attended, so I chose one to write about, the compost project at the Stemilt company. This compost facility is located in the center of the company’s farm, where the cultivation of apples and cherries primarily occurs. Read more »

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One on one with a cover cropper

Posted by David Sullivan | March 21, 2017

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.

While at the 2016 Tilth Conference in Wenatchee, I was able to ask Jim McGreevy a few follow up questions after his session “Cover Crops in Production Agriculture”. Jim manages organic vegetable and seed production at Cloudview Ecofarm, and is a strong advocate for the use of cover crops to improve soil health.

Why do you include cover crops as part of your field management?

“We are dealing with a high erodible soil on the farm and our goals are primarily to improve soil structure and increase organic matter levels. Of course cover cropping is really important for nutrient cycling on the farm as well.” Read more »

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Under what climatic conditions will it make economic sense to switch to a new irrigation system?

Posted by Keyvan Malek | March 2, 2017

High-efficiency drip irrigation system in wine grapes, a perennial, high-value crop in the region. Photo by Flickr user davitydave under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Investing in efficient irrigation systems usually requires significant capital. As with other capital-intensive investments, doing it would only make economic sense if the benefits exceed the costs. Each farmer can estimate the cost of switching their system to a high-efficiency system. But what about the benefits? What do they depend on? And will those factors they depend on change in the future? We used a model to play out some “what if” scenarios to address these questions in Washington’s Yakima Basin (see this article on using models in this way).

Efficient irrigation systems can improve yields through a more efficient delivery of water to the root zone, where crops can access it. Say you have 2 acre-feet of irrigation water available. With a traditional system you might lose 40% of that water through evaporation, drift, or percolation beyond the rooting depth, so your crop will only have 1.2 ac-ft to use. With a high-efficiency system, that availability might go up to 1.9 ac-ft or more, which allows the crop to produce higher yields. Read more »

The Original Horsepower

Posted by Crystal Allen | January 23, 2017

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.

Crystal AllenBefore mechanized farm equipment, there were animal-powered implements. Before that there was man-powered farming, and before agricultural crops were domesticated there were hunters and gatherers. All of these methods still exist today in various arrangements; some are utilized more than others. The size and scale of the farm operation are factors that play into what methods are used. Combinations of these methods are common at a typical farm.  As an owner of a family hay farm, my personal experience includes mostly mechanized farm equipment, but I’m intrigued by these other systems.  Here, I examine a small-scale re-energized method of farming, using animals to carry out duties on the farm. Read more »

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CAFOs manure use on small farms – from liability to asset

Posted by Tariq Khalil | January 18, 2017

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.

TariqMy research work at Washington State University deals with environmental problems associated with big agricultural enterprises, with a focus on large dairy operations. However, I got an opportunity to hear the concerns of small acreage farmers during the Tilth Conference. A glance at the State of Washington statistics tells us that about 89% of the farms are classified as small farms. Like other small businesses, these farms are valuable community assets, generating both income and employment as well as serving critical environmental, aesthetic, and social functions. These small, family owned and operated farms produce a range of commodities from fresh vegetables and fruits to meats, dairy products, flowers, and grain crops. These small entrepreneurs, particularly those with organic practices, have a variety of challenges and fewer choices. A big challenge for these small organic farms is getting financial support. Many banks are reluctant to approve loans to them, as financial institutions do not consider very small operations to be viable agriculture. In contrast to the perceptions of lenders, however, consumer support is growing for small scale, local agriculture.  Farmers are seeing a rise in community support for small farms and a preference for local and organic produce options, thus farmers are challenged to meet the demand with little financial support. Therefore, the potential for locally available nutrient sources could decrease the input cost. Read more »

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