What We Know and Don’t Know to Effectively Breed Potatoes for Future Climates

Q&A with Potato Breeder Dr. Sagar Sathuvalli

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.

head shot of person holding an uprooted potato plant

Vidyasagar (Sagar) Sathuvalli, Oregon State University potato breeder, in a test plot at the OSU Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Potato is a high-value, irrigated crop grown across Pacific Northwest states. It is affected by a range of pests and diseases, including many soil-borne pathogens. The need to break the cycle of some of these pathogens is a driver of crop rotation decisions. In my conversation with Dr. Sagar Sathuvalli, Associate Professor, Potato Breeding and Genetics at Oregon State University, it was clear that plant breeding had an important role to play in resistance to a wide range of pests and pathogens. He described a two-fold challenge to breeding for future climates. First, potato breeders don’t yet have good data on how climate change might change the dynamics of different pests and pathogens, and which might become greater threats in the future. And second, breeders must meet high expectations: neither yield nor quality can be compromised in pursuit of tolerance to climate-driven biotic or abiotic stresses. So here is how Dr. Sathuvalli is approaching these issues.

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Check it out: High Temperatures are Threatening Pollination of Crops in the Pacific Northwest

By Sarah Davis, Intern at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

Close up of bee on blossom

Pollination is key for all crops to survive and produce seeds, fruit, and grains. Photo: Flickr user Conall under CC BY 2.0

Throughout the last year, I have spent hours researching and writing about molecular techniques to combat heat and drought stress in agricultural crops while completing my undergraduate capstone project. So, when I found an article describing how the integrity of pollen is threatened by increasing temperatures, it seemed extremely relevant to both my project as well as my new internship at Washington State University where I am researching sustainable ways to address climate change impacts on tree fruit.

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Our Five-Year Mission … to Boldly Go Where No Integrated Model Has Gone Before

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 that was co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators included 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 identified and tested climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

Star ship flying around a planet

Figure 1. Still image from the original Star Trek TV series. Source: Maurice Mitchell (https://www.thegeektwins.com/2019/10/every-star-trek-opening-theme-song.html)

As a child of the sixties, I can still remember our family sitting together to watch the coolest show on television, Star Trek (Figure 1). Every episode began with these poetic words: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

These words came to mind as I reflect on the conclusion of our five-year project to develop and apply the powerful tools of integrated modeling for a unique purpose: to identify climate adaptation and mitigation opportunities in U.S. fruit and vegetable (F&V) supply chains. Continue reading

Water Markets’ Potential for Addressing Drought, Water Availability

By Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

sockeye fish in river, center pivot irrigating field, mostly dry river bed with narrow flow of water at the bottom

Water markets is one potential tool for moving water between uses such as instream water for sockeye in the Yakima Basin (top left; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology) or irrigating crop fields (top right; photo: Aspect Consulting). Such movement can be particularly important when flows are low (Walla Walla River runs low late in the irrigation season (bottom; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology).

As climate change increases the likelihood of a mismatch in the timing of when water is needed and when it is available, policymakers, water managers, and water users are exploring water markets as one potential tool to move water between uses. Water markets facilitate the voluntary transfer of water between sellers and buyers, on either a temporary (lease) or permanent (sale) basis. To some this has meant water is accessible for crops during drought or for new housing developments. For fish, it may mean more water instream that enhances survival.

And yet, water markets are not quite as simple as other markets (say, the grocery store). There are lots of features of water that make purchasing it different than buying a loaf of bread. Continue reading

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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