Sustainability

Tracking Beneficial Parasites to Safeguard Cherry Production

Cesar Reyes Corral, PhD student in the Washington State University Department of Entomology, has identified several beneficial insects that may be key to long-term management of X-disease.   X-disease has recently emerged as a major threat to cherry, peach, and nectarine production in the Pacific Northwest, by producing small, bitter fruit. This disease is caused by a bacterium called Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni that is spread by insects called leafhoppers.

Close up of a fly and leafhopper

Breeding Better Food

What makes food better? Through the Soil to Society grant, we believe that breeding for increased health and nutritive value while improving agronomic and end-use qualities creates better food and a foundation for an accessible food system. Currently, WSU and USDA plant breeders are developing new varieties of barley, wheat, peas, lentils, quinoa and buckwheat with enhanced health and nutritive value through the Soil to Society grant. Each plant breeder is working on one or two of the above crops, with nutrition goals specific to the crop.

Close up of wheat in a field in the Palouse

Human Perspectives Add Value to Entomological Research

You are at the grocery store in the produce section. Pears are in season, so you go over to pick a few out – maybe they will elevate your next charcuterie board. After inspecting a few, you grab pears that appear to be pristine, symmetrical in shape and with smooth, unsullied skin. These are worth your money.

Pears in rows of a carton

A multi-state team is addressing agricultural climate change preparedness through creatively paired conversations in the newly funded “Analogs for Dialogs” grant

When it comes to climate change resilience in agriculture, the question is generally not why agricultural operations should be prepared, but which preparations will be effective? Through this $1.5 million grant funded by AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program, a national team led by WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources aims to build Extension and USDA Climate Hub professionals’ capacity to answer the “which” within specialty crop systems, and move the bar forward in climate change resilience.

Map of US counties with arrows showing current analogs for future climate conditions

Soil Scientists Lay the Groundwork for a Healthier Food System

Healthy food cannot be made in an incubator.  It requires healthfulness to be implemented in every step of the production process: from cultivation to consumption. The Soil to Society grant is working to produce more nutritious, whole grain-based food products starting from the ground up. This starts with our Soils and Cropping Systems team, who are experimenting with the roles of environment, soil, and cropping systems management on soil health, farm economics, and the nutritional content of grain and legume crops. Doing so requires research to be done in collaboration, instead of in silos.

Tractor in a trial field

2023 BIOAg Award Announcement

One of the clearest examples of CSANR impact is through BIOAg, a competitive grant program designed to promote research, education, and Extension work in biologically intensive, organic, and sustainable agriculture systems. In the last five years alone, BIOAg projects have leveraged over $24 million through federally funded grants, state initiatives, and university projects based on an initial Center investment of $2 million.

Cows walking through a grassy path in a forest

Optimizing Human Health and Nutrition: From Soil to Society

Though we are what we eat, there is minimal research available on how different players within the food system interact to influence food availability and human health. Noted barriers to this research and to a broader understanding of agriculture’s role in societal health include a historical separation of the involved scientific disciplines, and an economic incentive to focus on crop yield rather than nutrition. Reducing those barriers not only improves future research, but also the robustness, affordability, and accessibility of our food system.

Multiple loaves of bread on a rack

Profitability Tool for Growers Considering Alternative Rotations in Dryland Systems

For the inland Pacific Northwest, climate change predictions including wetter springs and drier, hotter summers leads to production system uncertainties and risks for dryland, small grain farmers. Annual precipitation is projected to increase by about 5-15% by 2050 except during the summer months where precipitation is projected to decrease, resulting in decreased soil moisture during the late summer months.

Dusty field

Water Use Limitations of Cover Crops in Dryland Cropping

I have seen it work. As a graduate student, I researched cover crops in a California dryland wheat system, comparing a wheat-fallow system to one with a cover crop replacing fallow (McGuire et al., 1998). A wet winter allowed for successful wheat yields in both systems. However, research results suggest that this is often the exception in dryland agriculture. More often, water use by the cover crop reduces the yield of the following cash crop.

Hand drawn figure of different fates of water

What does it take to start a long-term experiment?

“What were they thinking?” It’s a common question asked by agricultural scientists about the design of long-term cropping system experiments. Starting a long-term study is a big investment and having asked those questions ourselves while working with multi-decadal trials, you can imagine how daunting it was to be tasked with setting up a Long-term Agroecological Research and Extension (LTARE) site through the Washington Soil Health Initiative (WaSHI). In 20 years, would people be wondering what the heck we were thinking.

Two people in a field behind a tractor