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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 »

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 »

Flex Cropping – Storing More Carbon Under Challenging Environmental Conditions

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | December 16, 2016

Residues from more frequent cropping feed the soil by adding organic matter. Grower Bill Jepsen pictured. Photo: S. Kantor.

Organic matter – the organic component of soil – is key to soil health. Organic matter serves as a reservoir of nutrients for crops, provides soil aggregation, increases nutrient exchange, retains moisture, reduces compaction, reduces surface crusting, and increases water infiltration into the soil. And organic matter is closely related to soil organic carbon, the carbon stored in organic matter. Soils with high levels of organic matter have higher levels of carbon, and consequently also benefit the climate by “sequestering” carbon that otherwise would be in the atmosphere.

In the rain-fed croplands of the Pacific Northwest, wheat-based agriculture has historically mined carbon out of the soil. Near Pendleton, winter wheat grown every other year depleted soil organic carbon up to 63% over 80 years of cultivation.[1] Re-building soil carbon is thus an important task for supporting continued agricultural productivity across the region. Read more »

Comparing effects of herbicides, fertilizers, and tillage on the soil

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 8, 2016
Is this better than an herbicide for the soil? Photo: United Soybean Board.

Is this better than an herbicide for the soil? Photo: United Soybean Board.

In a past post, I argued for the use of an herbicide instead of tillage to kill a soil-building cover crop. My post was mostly observation of the damage of tillage on the soil as compared to the lack of damage, at least visually, from the herbicide. But others suggested that herbicides may not be as benign in the soil as I portrayed them. Here is the latest science on the topic.

A series of reviews have been published on the effects of herbicides on the soil, starting with Bunemann et al. in 2006. They concluded, “The herbicides generally had no major effects on soil organisms.” More recently, a review by Rose et al. (2016) found, “Overall, the majority of papers reported negligible impacts of herbicides on soil microbial communities and beneficial soil functions when applied at recommended field-application rates.” Read more »

Crop rotation: In praise of deliberate, sequenced disruption of natural systems

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 1, 2016

For years, researchers have been looking to polycultures, biodiversity in space, as a way to improve agriculture (Trenbath 1974; Tilman et al. 1997; Cardinale et al. 2011; Finney and Kaye 2016). Behind this research is the idea that nature is the best model for agriculture. Because we find that nature is generally a polyculture, we should mimic this biodiversity on the farm. Natural is now viewed as the best option. Today, however, I want to commend a most unnatural practice, crop rotation.

The unnatural, disruptive transition of wheat monoculture to bean monoculture – good for agriculture

The unnatural, disruptive transition of wheat monoculture to bean monoculture – good for agriculture

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High Residue Farming Workshop for Irrigated Producers

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | November 21, 2016
Corn plants coming up among strips of wheat.  Photo: D. Kilgore.

Corn plants coming up among strips of wheat. Photo: D. Kilgore.

WSU Extension is hosting an upcoming workshop on the basics of High Residue Farming on November 30, 2016, 9:30-3:30 in Moses Lake.  Details for those interested in attending are available here (lunch included if you pre-register by 11/22).

High residue farming is a term that covers a number of different specific farming practices, including strip-till and direct seeding. In all these systems, the amount of tillage is reduced in order to maintain crop residues on the soil surface.  High residue farming provides a number of benefits, but two key ones include reducing wind erosion (and the need to replant sand-blasted crops) and reducing the amount of time and equipment needed to plant. It can also improve soil health, increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, and in some cases increase the potential for double-cropping. Read more »

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