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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.