Check it out: Measuring Water Use Rather Than Water Diversions

By Sonia A. Hall

Small dam diverting water from a river into an irrigation canal

Irrigation dam and diversion in Idaho. Photo: Mark Plummer under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There is a difference between the amount of water diverted from streams and rivers to irrigate crops, and the amount of water consumptively used in those irrigated fields, which includes what the crops actually transpire, plus what evaporates from these fields. The difference is sometimes called return flow, as it percolates through the soil and becomes available for use further downstream (this earlier article has a diagram that reflects that, so take a look).

Decisions about water allocation and water use in the Pacific Northwest are mostly made based on diversions, because that’s what we can measure, using water meters for example. But when we discuss whether more efficient irrigation technology should be used, or ways to reduce conflicts between out-of-stream and instream water needs, consumptive use—the water used by crops and lost to evaporation—is also really important. Check out this article on METRIC, a method using remote sensing to measure water consumption in Idaho. And take a look at the 2016 Columbia River Forecast for a pilot application of METRIC in Washington State, work that is currently being expanded with support from the US Department of Agriculture as part of the Washington State University led Technology for Trade project. What do you think would be the benefits of having this technology available across the Columbia River Basin? Take a minute to comment below. And stay tuned for more on METRIC as this research progresses.

Are Efficient Irrigation Technologies a Winning Solution in the Yakima River Basin?

By Keyvan Malek, Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University

In an earlier AgClimate.net article I discussed studies that have looked into the effects of investments in efficient irrigation technology on other water-related sectors. I argued that many studies have concluded that such investments might have negative implications for other water users, such as farmers or energy producers. I also mentioned that we were studying this issue, and promised to report our findings. This article and our soon-to-be-published paper deliver on that promise.

Why we did what we did 

Closeup of a drip irrigation line, with a drop of water falling onto soil covered with crop residue

Questions still remain around the impacts across a basin and for multiple water use sectors of more efficient irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation. Photo: Joby Elliott under CC BY 2.0.

Among agro-hydrologists—people who study the dynamics of water in agricultural systems—it is a widely accepted fact that one farmer’s investment in new, irrigation efficiency technologies negatively affects other farmers and sectors. However, questions remain, as past studies have not explicitly quantified the impacts of new irrigation systems on other sectors. What is the implication for overall agricultural productivity? How do efficient systems impact the ecological condition of the basin? How do energy production and demand change as people switch to more efficient systems? Are there any social implications? And do these productivity, ecological, and social implications change as the climate changes? Continue reading

Soil Health in Potato Production: Oxymoron or Opportunity?

By Karen Hills

A frequently used—at least, by soil scientists—definition for soil health is “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system […] to sustain biological productivity, maintain the quality of air and water environments, and promote plant, animal, and human health” (Doran et al. 1996). Many different indicators—chemical, physical, and biological—are used to assess soil health.

Potato field with two harvesters and two trucks

Figure 1. Potatoes are economically important crops in many irrigated areas of the Pacific Northwest. Here, potatoes are harvested near Pasco, Washington. Photo: Athena Loos.

Growing potatoes is notoriously hard on the physical and biological health of soil (Figure 1). Potato production in many areas of the Pacific Northwest involves seven or more soil disturbance operations, leaves little residue on the field, and often involves the use of fumigants to control soilborne diseases. The economics of potato production often drive growers to utilize short rotations. But a suite of strategies are possible to improve soil health in potato production, including cover crops, rotating with perennial crops and crops that contribute high levels of residues, and incorporation of organic amendments. While growing green manure crops for biofumigation has probably achieved the most success and adoption in the region (see producer Dale Gies as an example), in this article I focus on a more challenging strategy that has received limited attention, but may have more direct climate change implications: tillage reduction. Continue reading

Learn About Forest Carbon Markets Through New Online Curriculum

By Chris Schnepf

Wood buried in the forest soil profile

Like other ecosystems, forests store carbon both above and below ground. Photo: Chris Schnepf.

Ten years ago, when I visited with forest owners about climate change, there was a fair amount discussion about what was happening or not, and all the politics surrounding it. But one of the topics landowners were intrigued about—regardless of the extent to which they believed climate was changing—was carbon markets. Forest owners were excited about the prospect of a revenue stream for things they were doing well on their forest, that would result in more carbon being sequestered.

Continue reading

ANNOUNCEMENT: PACIFIC NORTHWEST AGROFORESTRY WORKSHOP

September 17th – 19th, 2019

Enduris Training Facility

Spokane, WA

For technical assistance providers, extension staff, and anyone else who works with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to promote agroforestry in the PNW.

  • Tuesday, September 17th: Presentations on windbreaks for livestock protection, plant materials, riparian buffer challenges, silvopasture options, pollinator habitat, and more
  • Wednesday, September 18th: Field trip to Regional Agroforestry Projects
  • Thursday, September 19th (optional training): How To Become a Technical Service Provider (TSP)

To register or to see the agenda visit the PNW Agroforestry Working Group website here.

Cost is $75 for the workshop and field tour (September 17th – 18th), with an additional $25 fee for the optional TSP training on September 19th.

For more information contact Shannon Murray: shannon.murray@oregonstate.edu

 

Coming Spring 2020: Oregon Agroforestry Workshop

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What You Need to Know About Fruit Acclimation to Heat Stress

By Antoinette Avorgbedor

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

Looking along grape vine rows, with arid hills in the background

Agriculture in arid conditions can be challenging for fruit development. Could acclimation help with those challenges? Photo: Cliff Hellis, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Did you know that people indigenous to the hotter equatorial regions have much lower sweat rates than people in cooler regions of the world? Similar to the ability of the human body to adjust to different climatic conditions, plants have evolved various mechanisms to survive extreme weather conditions. Besides long-term evolutionary modifications, plants have been found to develop quick short-term tolerance to extreme environmental conditions. Many different plant species have been reported to develop “memory” to stress, which then helps protect against future adverse conditions. I found this topic pretty interesting. What types of benefits could be derived from a deeper understanding of how plants “acclimate” when experiencing physical stress factors? And could understanding this ability be useful for improving their tolerance to stress, so they can avoid some of the impacts of stress on fruit production? Continue reading

Announcement: Webinar on Climate Tools for Specialty Crop Growers

Monday September 23rd, 11–noon PT

Join the USDA Northwest Climate Hub online Sept. 23 from11 a.m.-noon PT to learn about the Future Crop Suitability Tool and Climate Mapper (available at http://www.climatetoolbox.org) that can assist tree/shrub fruit growers (almonds, apples, blueberries, and cherries) with future location and management decisions.

Here is some information about each tool:

The Specialty Crop Suitability Tool provides mapped and graphical summaries of the climatic suitability for cultivating selected tree/shrub specialty crops across the Northwest. The phenology-based tool focuses on temperature requirements and limitations for crop development, and provides information on how often climatic conditions are suitable for crop success and what the limiting factors for success may be. It provides this information for two future time periods and two future climate scenarios using the average output across 20 global climate models. The mapping and graphical interface, along with extensive documentation, allows users to explore the intersection of climate and perennial agriculture in the Northwest and may aid in agricultural management decisions such as site or cultivar selection.

The Climate Mapper Tool allows users to access a series of maps that display climate information across the U.S., covering both recent and future time periods. The mapping interface not only provides climate variables, but also variables pertinent to agricultural systems. The dynamic mapping interface provides a straightforward way for decision-makers and scientists to visualize climate information.

The webinar will provide an overview of what the tools can (and cannot) tell you, and Drs. John Abatzoglou (University of Idaho Climatology Lab) and Lauren Parker (USDA California Climate Hub) will guide you through examples of how to use them.

Register for the webinar here: https://go.unl.edu/hhm5

Dr. Lauren Parker, California Climate Hub

Dr. John Abatzoglou, University of Idaho Climatology Lab

Sweat the Small Stuff, Like the Hessian Fly

By Doug Finkelnburg

Female Hessian fly laying an egg on a wheat leaf

Hessian fly, a modest pest of Pacific Northwest wheat, with potentially big impacts as the climate changes. Photo: Scott Bauer/USDA Agricultural Research Service under CC BY 3.0 US.

As climate change is occupying more space in public discourse, it is easy to focus on the attention-grabbing headlines about loss of sea ice, warming oceans, and more intense and frequent wildfires. Often overlooked are the seemingly subtle effects a changing climate presents and the ramifications these subtle changes can have. For example, let us discuss a modest pest of Pacific Northwest wheat, the Hessian fly. Continue reading

How Suitable is Apple Orchard Netting as a Sunburn Control Measure?

By Antoinette Avorgbedor

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

More likely than not, you have passed large apple orchards in your travels around the Pacific Northwest area and observed nets spanning wide areas of apple trees. Sometimes the entire top and all the sides of orchards are enclosed. A 2017 survey conducted in Washington State to assess the extent of netting found that about 5% of the surveyed acres were under nets and an additional 7% was estimated to be added in 2018 (Mupambi et al. 2019). Intuitively, you think nets are supposed to keep pests and trespassers out. At least, that is what I thought when I first saw an apple orchard covered with netting. That happens to be only a secondary reason for which tree fruit growers invest in such extensive enclosing techniques. A whopping 98.3% of the growers surveyed indicated that sunburn reduction was one of their most important reasons for using netting (the survey allowed growers to choose multiple reasons). I couldn’t help but wonder: What does this growing popularity of shade netting mean for the future of apple sunburn control?

Green apples with golden brown or dark brown patches on the skin

Sunburn in Granny Smith apples. Photos: I. Hanrahan and M. Mendoza. Reproduced with permission, from Mupambi et al. 2019.

Continue reading

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!