CSANR is an entity not easily explained in one fell swoop, but the range and breadth of projects we’ve undertaken throughout 2023 really showcase our primary goal: to find inspired solutions for the future of agriculture and the environment. Take a minute to reflect with us on 2023 and look forward to the developing projects and partnerships of 2024.
Soil to Society is not just a grant, but a strategy of thinking that addresses gaps in current knowledge and between research disciplines. The pipeline strategy traces the flow of nutrients from agricultural systems and food production to human consumption, culminating in the synthesis of more sustainable agricultural management strategies and healthy, affordable food products to meet the needs of diverse individuals and communities. It is a novel way of thinking, especially within traditionally separate research areas in academia. For this reason, one of the main objectives of this Soil to Society grant is to move forward this strategy of thought by introducing students, teachers, and farmers to the pipeline strategy in an educational setting.
I recently wrote a blog post announcing that Sustainable Farms and Fields (SFF) had launched. This innovative program housed in the Washington State Conservation Commission helps Conservation Districts and other public entities implement practices that are “climate-smart,” or in other words, sequester carbon in soil or vegetation and/or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This is one of only a handful of state programs in the U.S. helping agricultural producers be part of the climate solution and achieve co-benefits such as improving soil health.
Throughout this Soil to Society series, we’ve discussed the grant’s goal of breeding varieties of wheat, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, lentils, and peas that are more nutritious and making new, desirable foods with them. Now what about the “Society” side of Soil to Society? The Population Nutrition and Social Science team is answering society-level questions by exploring consumption behaviors, their implications for human nutrition, and identifying strategies to get Americans to eat more of the adapted target crops.
WSU extension and research faculty recently wrapped up a multi-year High-Value Horticulture and Processing internship program. In total, 24 interns were hosted by WSU in the summers of 2018, 2019, and 2022. Support for the project came from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates (NIFA REEU) program. Our WSU team worked at the intersection of sustainable food production, processing technology, and food safety to provide undergraduates nationwide with life-changing research and extension experiences.
We are halfway through our Soil to Society series, so let’s do a quick recap. Following along the Soil to Society pipeline, this grant is working to identify soil-conscious cultivation practices with the Soil and Cropping Systems team, breed varieties of wheat, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, and peas with the Plant Breeding team, and engineer products that utilize these nutrient rich crop varieties with the Food Science team. Now, we must determine whether the more nutritious varieties correlate to better health outcomes in human consumers.
Soil health education for youth is vital to change the outlook and attitude of future generations toward soil stewardship. Soil health is linked to some of the most important issues facing our planet and future generations, from a warming climate and increasing extreme weather events to toxic buildup of waste and contaminants, to fresh air and water, to the very food quantity and quality on our tables each and every day. Yet, unfortunately, most students enter college with little to no understanding of the importance of soil in our everyday lives.
The last two years taught us how to adapt to rapid changes in our daily lives, including the major pivot to remote education. Remote education is nothing new, as WSU has delivered remote video and audio education since the late 1980’s in response to the to the state legislature’s directive for increased accessibility.
In September 2021, WSU began leadership of a new Agriculture-Artificial Intelligence (AI) research Institute: the AgAID Institute. As the growing population increases food demand, agriculture faces complex challenges related to labor, water scarcity, weather events and climate change. The AgAID Institute is developing AI solutions to help address these pressing challenges and spur the next agricultural revolution with the use of AI.
WSU researchers are examining water markets and barriers to their adoption as a potential strategy to adapt to climate changes. Those implementing water markets must navigate legal and administrative complexities, a big one being the need to treat water resources as both a public resource and a private property.