Check it out: The Black Box of Soil Organic Matter and Soil Health

By Sonia A. Hall

Two men bent over a shovelful of soil in a harvested wheat field.

The connection between soil health and carbon sequestration are complex, but advances in soil biology are teasing them out. Photo: Ron Nichols/USDA NRCS under CC BY 2.0.

A number of recent AgClimate.net articles focused on soil health (see for example this article on a soil health NRCS resource  and one on decomposition of wheat residues research). These articles commented on why soil health is important from a climate change perspective: more carbon-rich organic matter in the soil contributes to soil health, and also means less carbon as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So the potential exists for a win-win situation. As most things in life and agriculture, the connections between improved soil health and increased carbon sequestration are not as simple as they sound. Check out Andy McGuire’s elegant blog article describing why advances in soil biology—a foundational component of soil health—are important. He explains that it is not because they “change everything,” but because they help clarify why some things work and some don’t as much, and explain how complex that connection between soil health and carbon sequestration in soils appears to be. And though we may not want to hear it, we need this understanding to determine where the win-win practices that both increase soil health and sequester more carbon might realistically be. So take a few minutes to read McGuire’s article—it’s well worth the time!

The Forest Service’s Climate Adaptation Publication is a Worthy Resource for All Landowners

By Chris Schnepf

The cover of the General Technical Report

Halofsky, Jessica E.; Peterson, David L.; Dante-Wood, S. Karen; Hoang, Linh; Ho, Joanne J.; Joyce, Linda A., eds. 2018. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation in the Northern Rocky Mountains (Parts 1 and 2). Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-374. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Foresters were among the first to start thinking about the possible effects of climate change, in part because of the long-term nature of forests—foresters commonly reflect on management issues on 50 or even 150-year time scales. Because forests are also highly valued for other benefits in addition to commodity production (i.e., wood), those managing forests are also particularly aware of the long-term effects of their management on water, wildlife, soil, and other ecosystem benefits.

One of the best examples of that broad, long, view is a recent new publication titled “Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation in the Northern Rocky Mountains,” a two-part, 495-page document produced by the USDA Forest Service). The publication is the result of a process that had extensive involvement from Forest Service personnel, non-governmental partners, and universities in a series of 2- and 3-day workshops throughout the Northern Region of the Forest Service (including one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho). Continue reading

What is Ocean Acidification? Should We Worry About It?

By Laurie Houston

A pile of oysters.

Oysters, an important industry in the Pacific Northwest, is vulnerable to ocean acidification. Photo: Steve Freeman under CC BY 2.0

I recently enlisted colleagues to write a blog article about the impact carbon dioxide emissions have on the Pacific Northwest oyster aquaculture industry. While reviewing the blog I realized that ocean acidification is probably a little-understood feature for many of us.  Therefore, I went in search of articles and videos that explain the science of ocean acidification, and its impact on ecosystems and economies. Continue reading

Check it out: New Resource for Healthy Soils and Climate Resilience

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Hand holding a clod of soil full of roots and worms

Healthy soils can build greater resilience and reduce risks in the face of more extreme and variable weather. Photo: Aaron Roth/NRCS under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Climate change is expected to increase the vulnerability of our agriculture and natural resource systems. In the face of more extreme and variable weather, there are a suite of soil health management practices that land managers can adopt to build greater resilience and to reduce risks in their agricultural operations (examples of strategies in Figure 1).

Through engagement with land managers and those who work with them, including Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), and Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) professionals, it became clear that many of them were interested in soil health and its linkages with climate change adaptation and mitigation. As a result, Oregon NRCS and the USDA Northwest Climate Hub partnered to develop a resource to aid advisors and land managers in discussing soil health and climate resilience together. Continue reading

What Does Winter Wheat Decomposition Have to Do with Climate?

Managing crop residue is essential to reduced and no-till farming systems. These farming systems store more carbon than conventional farming systems, thereby mitigating climate change, enhancing soil health, and reducing soil erosion. In work described in a recent project report, Arron Carter and colleagues have been working to make it easier for growers with diverse needs across the Pacific Northwest to manage wheat residues. While the work is still in progress, it is an illustration of the kind of creative, applied work that is needed to make reduced-tillage systems easier to manage, and more widely adopted across the region.

Wheat growing in a field, with residues remaining from last year's harvest between the rows.

Wheat residue in a field in early July near Bickleton, WA. This area is part of the drier winter wheat-fallow area, where slower decomposing residues are preferred. Photo: Hilary Davis.

Growers in different parts of the dryland Pacific Northwest are seeking different residue characteristics. Continue reading

What can the Pacific Northwest Oyster Aquaculture Industry do about Ocean Acidification?

Market with baskets of shellfish for sale, and boards with prices in the background

Oysters for sale at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Samish Bay, WA. Photo: Brian Katz

By Thamanna Vasan and David M. Kling, Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University

Chances are that, when you go to a restaurant for oysters in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll come across a menu that features the Pacific oyster. Also known as the immigrant oyster, the Pacific oyster made its way to the Northwest in the early 1900s from Japan, and has remained a staple in aquaculture in the region due to the ease with which growers can produce the oyster and the value it holds in markets.

Over the past decade the oyster industry in the Northwest has taken a hit. Due to rapidly changing ocean conditions, a growing process that once ran like clockwork has been experiencing major glitches, and public enemy number one is ocean acidification. Continue reading

Keeping Unusual Weather in Perspective While Looking Forward to the Growing Season

By Jason Kelley

Tractor with a snowplow moving through deep snow

The need to dig out from winter snows varies from year to year. Photo: Florian Straub under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the arrival of the spring equinox, many of us in the Pacific Northwest were still digging out from the snow or dealing with seasonal flooding, the impacts of a cold and snowy winter fresh in our minds. Just a couple of weeks later, news of the fire season is already starting. Along with fire and drought, extreme weather events are happening more frequently than historical records suggest. I’ve been surveying the state of weather-related affairs across the region, and summarize here some of the conditions relevant to agriculture. Continue reading

Check it out: How to Reconcile 2019’s Unusual Winter with a Warming Climate

By Sonia A. Hall

Robin on and surrounded by tree branches covered in snow.

A robin, commonly associated with the start of spring, during the February 9, 2019 snowstorm some people called the “snowpocalypse.” Photo: Sean O’Niell, under CC BY-ND 2.0

Now that spring is here and the cherry trees are starting to bloom, take a few minutes to check out John Abatzoglou’s article in the latest Climate CIRCulator’s Northwest Climate Currents. By relating the conditions the Northwest experienced this past February and March (and the earlier mild times we had in December and January), Dr. Abatzoglou puts our winter in context. He also explains the weather patterns that were responsible for the low temperatures and widespread low-elevation snow we saw, and why they occurred. He then goes on to discuss the broader context of how to reconcile these experiences with our understanding of how the climate is changing. Because I find this particularly fascinating, and feel it is important to hear what the experts say about it, I repost that portion of Dr. Abatzoglou’s article below, with some revisions he kindly made so that it does not feel like an excerpt (thank you, John). Read on to get a better handle on this apparent contradiction.

Excerpt, with modifications, from Dr. Abatzoglou’s article (read the entire article on the Climate CIRCulator website). Continue reading

The Devil is in the Process: Co-composting Biochar Could Benefit Crop Growth and the Environment

By Karen Hills

Biochar has the potential to sequester carbon and improve the properties of soils when used as an agricultural amendment. However, biochar will only be a viable option for carbon sequestration if there are uses and viable markets for this biochar. In recent years, there has been interest in adding biochar to agricultural soils in conjunction with compost, and in some cases, “co-composting” biochar—putting the biochar in with the feedstock before the composting altogether. Read on to learn about a study led by Dr. David Gang, a professor at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, indicating that co-composting can provide additional benefits, both during the composting process and to the crops grown in soil amended with the resulting co-composted biochar.

Three people around equipment on a compost pile

Figure 1. Mark Fuchs (left), John Cleary (right) (both of the Washington Department of Ecology) and Nathan Stacey (middle, WSU) use equipment to measure gas emissions from a commercial scale co-composting experiment. Photo: Doug Collins, WSU.

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Check it out: Extreme Winter Weather Severely Impacts the Dairy and Cattle Industry

By Laurie Houston

Person walking through snow to a car buried in a drift which completely covers the fence behind it.

The February 9, 2019 blizzard in eastern Washington dumped 2-3 feet of snow, and winds created drifts that fully covered ditches and fences. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

If you live in the Northwest, you either experienced first-hand or certainly heard about this past week’s blizzard in eastern Washington State.  This area does not usually get much precipitation over the course of a year.  During the winter, they may typically get a few inches of snow in any given storm. This storm, however, took many people by surprise and dumped 2-3 feet of snow in parts of eastern Washington, while bringing in winds from the east and temperatures in the low teens. Over 1,600 dairy cows were killed in this freak blizzard. At an estimated $2,000 per head, that is a loss of $3,200,000, spread over a little more than a dozen farms. That is huge unforeseen expense for struggling farmers to absorb, and a large amount of dead animals to dispose of safely.

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