Cleaning Stormwater with Sequestered Carbon

By Chelsea Mitchell, PhD candidate, Washington State University, Washington Stormwater Center*

 

Runoff entering a bioretention system via a curb cut

Figure 1. Bioretention systems are designed to drain and filter stormwater runoff. Credit Carly Thompson, WSU Puyallup.

Stormwater runoff has become one of the greatest environmental challenges we face in western Washington, a region with heavy rainfall and widespread urbanization. In parts of the landscape dominated by impervious surfaces, such as roads, buildings, and parking lots, rainfall is not able to infiltrate the ground (Figure 1). Instead, the resulting runoff picks up pollutants, causes flooding and changes our waterways. These issues are expected to become more severe with population growth and climate change.

There is a bright spot on the horizon, though. A charcoal-like product known as biochar has potential to address these issues when used in stormwater management. Biochar is formed when biomass is heated under low or no oxygen conditions in a process called pyrolysis. By limiting the oxygen level, you limit combustion and the release of carbon dioxide during biochar production. The resulting material has a stable, carbon-rich structure which resists being degraded for hundreds to thousands of years, keeping the carbon locked in place. Continue reading

Check it out: A View on What We Know about Smoke and Wine Grapes

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

A row of vines with a burnt orange sky in the background

Smoke can affect grapes in complex ways. Photo: Sheila Sund under CC BY 2.0.

A recent article in the Good Fruit Grower reported on effects of wildfire smoke on wine grapes and, most importantly, on the resulting wine. Based on a panel discussion at this year’s Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, this article takes an interesting approach to an area of emerging research. The reporter first describes the state of the science, and what we know about the complexities of wildfire smoke on grapes and wine. What follows is a series of considerations and strategies for growers aimed at helping them manage smoke risks “until the science catches up.” We know that climate change is driving more extreme fire weather, leading to greater risk of wildfires and resulting smoke impacts. Check out what growers can do now while further investment is made in understanding impacts and how to address them.

New Digital Tools for Fruit and Vegetable Growers

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

Tools have always played an essential role in agriculture, but they have evolved dramatically over the years. I recently visited the Lyles Station Museum in southwestern Indiana where I saw a fascinating variety of antique and prehistoric farming and processing tools (Figure 1). But farming in the future will require focusing on adaptation and mitigation opportunities in the face of the imperatives imposed by climate change. So today’s growers need new tools, such as the ones our research team is now developing, to help us prepare for the future by supporting long-term planning of fruit and vegetable (F&V) production systems.

Series of photos showing tools in a museum

Figure 1. Examples of antique farm-related tools and machines on display at southwestern Indiana’s Lyles Station Museum: a) a loom; b) multiple farming tools (being explained by museum curator, Stan Madison); c) an antique combine; d) a spinning wheel; e) multiple Native American artifacts; f) a hand-cranked food processing press. Photos: Dave Gustafson.

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Check it out: The Need to Implement a Risk-Based Management Approach to Wildfires

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

A surface fire burning in the forest, with a firefighter watching and resting in the foreground

Fire crew monitoring a wildfire. Photo: Jim Bartlett, Team Rubicon/BLM for USFS, under CC BY 2.0.

Wildfire season is underway, with blazes in New Mexico and California in the news. So an article I came across recently seems particularly relevant. Researchers with Resources for the Future, a self-described “independent, nonprofit research institution,” make the (not new, but reinforced) case for using managed wildfires as a tool for mitigating future wildfire risk. They discuss how treating forests across the western U.S. is needed to mitigate the risks wildfires pose to resources of value. The authors start from three premises: (1) that past management combined with climate change have led to many western forests being primed for an increase in wildfire activity; (2) that treatments such as thinning forest stands, combined with fire, reduce wildfire intensity and rate of spread; and (3) that we are nowhere near allocating the resources needed to treat all forests in need of treatment. They posit that managed wildfires—unintentional and unplanned fires that, when they occur in areas where they present relatively little threat, are allowed to burn naturally—can lead to benefits in reducing the risk of future fires. Of course, there are conditions, caveats, and risks to using—and also to not using—managed fires.. Check out their article to delve into their reasoning for a risk-based approach to “letting it burn.”

How What We Don’t Know Affects Our Ability to Prepare for Future Climates

Q&A with Aroma Hops Breeder Dr. Shaun Townsend

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

 

This article is part of a series where we share insights from conversations that I had with public plant breeders across the Pacific Northwest about their breeding programs and how climate change considerations intersect with their work. Through these conversations, I wanted to better understand the complexities of the plant breeders’ world, where there are elements that already provide useful information about adapting to future climates, and where there are questions—about the climate in the future, or the plants’ responses, or production, market, or other factors affecting a particular crops’ future—that intersect or even overshadow questions about how to prepare for future climates.

Hop plant with stunted leaves and stems

Hop plant infected by downy mildew, a “tough nut to crack” for breeding tolerance to diseases. Photo: Shaun Townsend.

Maintaining yields under stressful climate-driven conditions is important in Oregon State University’s aroma hop breeding program, as in most breeding programs. However, two other aspects drive the work of Dr. Shaun Townsend, Associate Professor, Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University. The first is how warmer (and maybe drier) springs could, maybe, help reduce the impacts of downy mildew, a “tough nut to crack” for breeding tolerance to diseases. Before I discuss my second take-away (it is about beer), see what Dr. Townsend had to say about breeding aroma hops for future climates.

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Adapting to Climate Change in the Yakima Basin: Agriculture’s Volatility and Tradeoffs

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

field seen under the arm of a central pivot irrigation system

Fifty percent of the Yakima Basin’s agriculture is irrigated. Photo: Vidar Mathisen, Unsplash.

The Yakima River Basin is a snow-dependent, agriculturally important region in Washington state, leading in production of many commodities and specialty crops. Nearly 50% of agricultural production in the Yakima Basin is irrigated, and is vulnerable to future expected temperature increases and severe droughts. Researchers at Cornell and Washington State Universities, led by Dr. Keyvan Malek, evaluated the impacts of changes in temperature, water availability, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on irrigated agriculture in this Basin and examined the effectiveness of potential strategies to mitigate the negative effects on crop yields.

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Using Timing of Risks and Benefits to Breed Barley for Future Climates

Q&A with Barley Breeder Dr. Patrick Hayes

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

 

This article is part of a series where we share insights from conversations that I had with public plant breeders across the Pacific Northwest about their breeding programs and how climate change considerations intersect with their work. Through these conversations, I wanted to better understand the complexities of the plant breeders’ world, where there are elements that already provide useful information about adapting to future climates, and where there are questions—about the climate in the future, or the plants’ responses, or production, market, or other factors affecting a particular crops’ future—that intersect or even overshadow questions about how to prepare for future climates.

Headshot of Patrick Hayes in front of a green field

Dr. Patrick Hayes, OSU. Photo: Ron Silberstein, Admiral Malting, Alameda CA

Barley, like wheat, can be sown in the fall, overwinter, and grow and mature the next season, or can be planted in the early spring, and have a shorter, quicker growing season. For a variety of reasons, however, spring barley is considered “the good one” for malting and producing beer. Yet as Dr. Patrick Hayes, Oregon State University’s malting barley breeder, works to develop barley varieties that will be grown under future climates, fall barley is key. The timing of growth and the resources it taps can help avoid a variety of issues that will otherwise impact barley yields and quality (whose main indicator is the percent protein in the grain). Read on for Dr. Hayes’s explanation of why fall barley is becoming increasingly attractive.

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The Basics of Carbon Markets and Trends: Something to Keep an Eye On

By Karen Hills, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Certain carbon markets could provide a win-win for producers and environmental interests pursuing reduction in emissions. Photo: Scott McLeod under CC BY 2.0.

The ability to store carbon in soils—to sequester carbon—has been receiving increased attention lately, including on AgClimate.net. Recent posts included articles about potential for croplands in the inland Pacific Northwest to sequester carbon and an article on the emerging carbon markets and their relevance for fruit and vegetable producers. Carbon markets offer the promise of monetizing the benefits of practices that add carbon to the soil, and are also good for soil health. If these markets are effective, they would provide a win-win for producers and environmental interests.

Thanks to the wonders of a zoom-friendly world, I recently attended a mini-workshop hosted by the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Extension where we explored carbon markets. Continue reading

Reservoirs Store and Release More Than Just Water

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

 

Arid landscape with irrigated fields and towns along a wide river, with a large dam across it

The Grand Coulee Dam is one of a system of dams on the Columbia River used for water storage, energy production and flood control. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation.

Reservoirs are common infrastructure across the globe, with myriad benefits and costs attached. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, reservoirs are used for water storage, energy production, and flood control, but they impact salmon by blocking passage to spawning and rearing habitat and also lose water to evaporation. However, few people know that reservoirs are also a significant source of greenhouse gases, releasing emissions on the scale of thousands of teragrams (Tg) per year, globally. For reference, the entire U.S. usually emits between six and seven thousand teragrams of greenhouse gases each year. Estimates of reservoir emissions have remained uncertain, though, making it hard to find ways to reduce these emissions. Dr. John Harrison from Washington State University teamed up with colleagues from the University of Quebec at Montreal to try to narrow down estimates of global reservoir greenhouse gas emissions, which could help pinpoint where limiting emissions would be most helpful and illuminate specific methods for doing so. Continue reading

To Be or Not to Be – Considerations at the Intersection of Breeding Apples and Climate Change

Q&A with Apple Breeder Dr. Kate Evans

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

 

This article is the first in a series where we share insights from public plant breeders around the Pacific Northwest on their breeding programs and how climate change considerations intersect with their work. These conversations are about understanding the complexities of the plant breeders’ world, where there are elements that already provide useful information about adapting to future climates, and where there are questions—about the climate in the future, or the plants’ responses, or production, market, or other factors affecting a particular crops’ future—that intersect or even overshadow questions about how to prepare for future climates.

 

Headshot of Kate Evans with a leafy background

Dr. Kate Evans, WSU.

I recently had some highly educational and thought-provoking conversations with Kate Evans, Professor of the Department of Horticulture and director of the Pome (apple and pear) Fruit Breeding Program at Washington State University. These conversations broadened my thinking on plant breeding and climate change from a focus on understanding to what extent plant breeders might be considering climate change in their breeding programs, to all the complexity of what plant breeding is about, how it fits into a much broader context of production and management practices that can help growers adapt to a changing climate, and the range of challenges and opportunities that face a crop—in this case apples—and its associated industry as we experience and prepare for the changes our climate will bring. Here’s what Dr. Evans had to say.


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