Global Environment

Biochar Doping: Not Another Olympic Scandal

If you run in any of the same circles as me, biochar is a hot topic of conversation as of late. There is potential for biochar to serve as a solution to issues in soil health, climate change, and the reduction of biomass in waste streams, all while contributing to rural economies and reducing fire risk through forest thinning. In all of these instances, however, biochar must be utilized to have the intended effects. Agricultural application of biochar as a waste treatment and as a soil amendment allows for the reduction of one waste stream to become a net benefit for farms, the climate, and society.

Chemical structure of biochar in three views

Implications of Shifting Timing in Water Availability in Eastern Washington

The Columbia River Basin has grappled with limited water supplies for decades. This was most noticeable during 2015, when we experienced severe summertime drought across large areas of Washington State, which reduced the amount of water available to meet the region’s demands. The 2015 drought and other recent occurrences of lower water availability are representative of a warmer future with lessening snowpack and earlier snowmelt. In fact, Washington is expected to experience drought again this summer due to rapidly melting snowpack and low precipitation forecasts, underscoring the prevalence of water supply issues for the state.

A pump station next to a creek

Sagebrush Shrub-steppe or Cheatgrass Prairie?

Although I work in irrigated agriculture, the views on my morning commute are all sagebrush, or the shrub-steppe as this native plant community is called. And cheatgrass, a lot of cheatgrass. Where there have been recent fires, stands of cheatgrass thrive. Sagebrush, the iconic plant of the shrub-steppe ecosystem, is having a hard time. The combined effects of fire frequency, climate change, and cheatgrass invasion have made sagebrush recovery an uphill battle. Will the shrub-steppe recover to its former subtle beauty, or should we get used to the cheatgrass prairie?

Sagebrush with mountains in the background

Deficit Irrigation Conserves Water in Agriculture to Aid in Combating Water Stress

Washington State has nearly 15 million acres of farmland with around 39,000 operating farms, each producing necessary agricultural commodities. A few of the most well-known crops that are produced and distributed from Washington State are apples, cherries, hops, raspberries, and pears. Even when traveling across the country, I can find Chelan apples, which shows

Irrigation piping surrounds the base of a tree.

Space Farming is Science FICTION

It said on the screen, “Bioregenerating Soil-Based Space Agriculture.” The title of the talk was “Beyond Intensification.” The speaker, a prominent researcher and prolific author, someone who I thought would present clear thinking on how, in addition to intensification of current agriculture, we can go about producing enough food for the earth’s growing population.  I glanced around to see if anyone else was astonished.  Space farming, he said, was the next step after agricultural intensification with food coming from the Moon and Mars. “Has it come to that?” I thought.

Moon phase

Promoting Global Food Security One Crop of Tomatoes at a Time

In early September I visited a remarkable organic farm on the coast of California.  This farm has been in organic production for about 30 years, and its harvests of mostly organic tomatoes have been marketed through a variety of outlets in Northern California. I arrived on the day picking had just begun on a sloping […]