Will I Be Able to Get Fries With That? A New Approach for Answering Life’s Big Questions About the Future of Food

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 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.


Side by side photos of a container with French fries and a jar of pasta sauce

A new integrated approach makes it possible to explore options for enhancing the resilience of future supply chains for popular U.S. foods, such as French fries and pasta sauce.
Photo: David I Gustafson.

It’s been a long, hot, dry, fiery, smoky summer in much of the American West. That’s where the U.S. gets most of its fruits and vegetables, including two widely-consumed processed products that some might not immediately associate with this category: French fries and pasta sauce. Most of those fries start as potatoes grown in the arid inland parts of the Columbia River Basin, and nearly all of that red sauce starts as tomatoes grown in the currently parched Central Valley of California. Given how hot and dry it has been this year, you might wonder how supplies of popular foods such as these are going to fare in the future, as climate change continues to increase the odds of even hotter growing conditions and impacts availability of water for irrigation.

In previous articles we reported on the remarkable resilience we found in these supply chains, a surprising opportunity for certain food preparation methods to significantly reduce carbon footprints, and the massive role that consumer waste plays in their overall environmental impact. Now our research team has published a new study in Nature Food where we examined the supply chains for French fries and pasta sauce in great detail, using a unique, integrated approach that we developed for exploring climate adaptation and mitigation opportunities in fruit and vegetable supply chains. Continue reading

Resources for Navigating the Confluence of Drought and Wildfire

By Luke Brockman, Oregon State University, Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Fire Program


Open fields transition to forested hillsides, with two large smoke plumes and dense smoke across the landscape. A firefighting plane crosses in front of the smoke

Drought is an important contributing factor to the dry conditions necessary for wildfire to spread to the levels we see today. Photo: USDA Forest Service under CC BY 2.0

Climate change is driving record high temperatures across the world, and among the effects in the Pacific Northwest is the increased severity of drought, which contributes to conditions already setting the stage for intense wildfires. Projected agricultural impacts of drought include losses in wheat, barley, and Christmas tree production. Additionally, the drought extremity we are experiencing this year correlates with the severity of wildfires, since drought is an important contributing factor to the dry conditions necessary for wildfire to spread to the levels we see today. Consider that this year’s wildfire season has been 19 times worse in terms of acreage burned than last year’s—more than 1 million acres by mid-August and counting in just Oregon and Washington, compared to a mere 52,000 acres at the same time last year––and conditions are likely to worsen in the coming years.

Gathering science-based, real-time information about wildfires burning in your state is important, but can certainly be a challenge when distracting “Breaking News” headlines and a whole host of other less than informative publications shroud your search results. Read on for some examples of how two online resources, drought.gov and the Inciweb site, can get you started with up-to-date information about drought, wildfire, and the effects that the changing climate is having on our neck of the woods. Continue reading

Would You Lease Your Water Rights? The Devil Is in the Details

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University


Center pivot irrigation system in a bare field with crop starting to emerge

Irrigation water supply in eastern Washington relies on snowmelt, which is expected to change as temperatures warm. Photo: Flickr user brewbooks under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Climate change is expected to alter both the availability and demand for water. In the western United States, roughly 80% of surface water is allocated to agricultural uses, and the pressure to find more efficient ways to manage water is on, especially in drought years. Eastern Washington is no exception: the mountains in this region are relatively low in elevation, meaning that as the region warms, temperatures will cross that 32°F threshold more frequently, more precipitation will fall as rain rather than as snow, and snowmelt will occur earlier. Because the Pacific Northwest relies on snowpack for much of its summer water supply, this could create challenges for managing water. While previous articles have focused on the likely timing and availability of water in the Columbia River Basin, in this article I focus on water markets, or the transfer or leasing of water and water rights from one user to another. These markets provide a tool that could potentially help reallocate water to where it is critically needed during times of shortage. Continue reading

Announcement: Center for Sustaining Ag and Natural Resources is hiring!

Logo for the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State UniversityOur core focus is supporting the sustainable management of agriculture and natural resources, which includes a variety of program areas that directly address or intersect with climate change. The Extension Coordinator is a key member of the CSANR team, and works across many of these program areas. Apply today! Screening begins September 28, 2021. 


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Here’s the Dirt on Carbon Sequestration Potential in Cropland Soils

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Aerial view of green and dry center pivot circles with the Columbia River in the background

Soils with carbon sequestration potential can include irrigated croplands in the Columbia River Basin. Photo: Doug Wilson/USDA ARS

In this era with record-setting temperatures multiple years in a row, scientists are looking for methods to sequester carbon to slow the process of climate change. Agriculture plays a key role in not just the global economy, but also the global carbon cycle: cropland soils have the potential to be either sinks or sources of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide. The conversion of native ecosystems to cropland agriculture has resulted in enormous carbon losses, estimated to be between 20-70% of the original carbon stored in native soils in the US. The Pacific Northwest is an agricultural powerhouse: in 2017, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon produced $22 billion in agricultural production on over 42 million acres. That’s a lot of soil. I recently read a white paper by Georgine Yorgey and colleagues at Washington State University titled “Carbon sequestration potential in cropland soils in the inland Pacific Northwest: Knowledge and gaps,” that summarizes research on carbon sequestration in the inland Northwest. It turns out that it is not a one-size-fits-all answer: the potential of certain croplands to either release or sequester carbon depends on climate, the cropping system, the soil type, and other factors. Fortunately, though, some soils do have great carbon sequestration potential. Continue reading

Announcement: The UW Climate Impacts Group are growing their team with two new, full-time positions!

Header with photo of a river through forest, announcing hiring of a Frontline Community Climate Resilience Scientist

The UW Climate Impacts Group is hiring a Frontline Community Climate Resilience Scientist (position open now!) . To skip straight to the full job description and application, click here.

The Frontline Community Scientist will bring thought leadership and coordination to a new climate justice-focused research collaborative at the Climate Impacts Group. The Frontline Community Scientist will have a unique opportunity to advance the theory and practice of climate services provision to frontline communities while working collaboratively with Native American tribes, rural communities and communities of color.

This position will involve leading and supporting research projects in climate resilience and climate justice; participating in strategic planning; coordinating and communicating across leadership and our partner organizations; among other responsibilities. Our partner organizations include community-facing partners, non-profits and academic researchers across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

We are looking for a candidate who has experience working across a diverse range of communities (including Native American tribes, rural communities, and urban communities of color) on issues related to climate change and environmental justice. This position will also require effective networking among academic researchers with substantive specialties ranging from the physical and natural sciences to the social and policy sciences. The ability to understand and find connections across these diverse fields of knowledge is crucial.

We will start reviewing applications for this position on September 3. To learn more and apply, please visit the CIG website.


Header with photo of pasture and mountains, announcing hiring of a Program Integration SpecialistThe UW Climate Impacts Group is hiring a new, full-time Climate Justice Research Program Integration Specialist to help launch and sustain our climate justice-focused research collaborative. To skip straight to the full job description, click here.

The Integration Specialist will contribute to the success of all aspects of our flagship climate justice research program. The main responsibilities of this position are project management and integration, in addition to communications, grant administration and reporting. The Specialist will work closely with the Frontline Community Climate Resilience Scientist – a new, climate justice-focused position that is also accepting applications.

We are hoping to attract candidates who are passionate about climate justice, climate change impacts and adaptation and co-producing actionable science. Additionally, we are seeking candidates with experience engaging frontline communities in environmental, health, climate or other decision-making processes, and with an understanding of the connections between environmental justice and racial, climate and health justice.

Please check out the position description on our website, apply and share with your networks! 


Check it out: Spanish Language Reports on Climate Impacts in Washington

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

Two reports, places on a lawn background

Two reports on climate change impacts translated into Spanish, helping to spread this information to a portion of the population that may otherwise have limited access. Photo: Climate Impacts Group

The recent heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has many of us thinking about climate change and what life may look like as the region warms. The Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington (UW) recently announced the release of two publications in Spanish, helping to spread this information to a portion of the population that may otherwise have less access to this information.

The reports,  Sin Tiempo Que Perder and Cambiando las Líneas de Nieve y las Líneas de Costa, were originally published in 2018 and 2020, and written for a general audience. Continue reading

Climate Friendly Farming Policy Considerations for the Inland Pacific Northwest

By Doug Finkelnburg, Area Extension Educator – Dryland Cropping Systems, University of Idaho Extension

Quote: America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”  - President Biden’s Executive Order on  Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad


Efforts are underway at the federal level to combat climate change on the agriculture front. USDA has just finished a “listening period” to help develop and refine actions they may implement to accomplish this. Just what those actions may be and what effects they may have on the day-to-day operation of Pacific Northwest farmers is an understandable cause of some uncertainty and trepidation.

Farmer and NRCS soil conservationist looking at a shovelful of soil in a harvested wheat field with standing residue

No-till farming near The Dalles, Oregon, a practice to improve soil health to increase water infiltration and retention, that also sequesters carbon. Photo: NRCS/Ron Nichols under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Recently I spoke with a farmers’ coop manager who asked what programs or policies are likely to be put into effect and whether long time direct-seeders would stand to benefit or lose out. Our discussion (summarized and edited) highlights a few important questions: “If the greatest gains in carbon sequestration are going to be made in the most organic matter-depleted fields, how will those who have already stockpiled organic mater to near a maximum point benefit?” and, “Will there need to be a system of soil carbon auditing or compliance enforcement?” and the inevitable big one, “Inland Pacific Northwest agriculture is very different from Midwest agriculture, will these new policies unfairly benefit some farmers over others?” Continue reading

What Can We Learn from the ‘Pacific Northwest Heat Dome’ of 2021?

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Close up of leaves and berries, with leaves curled and with large brown areas, and most berries tan colored, contrasting with one black berry

Heat wave damage to a commonly grown blackberry cultivar, Columbia Star (photo taken July 1, 2021). Photo courtesy of Dr. Bernadine Strik.

It wasn’t just hot in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) during the last week of June. It was extraordinarily hot. Temperatures at Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Aurora, Oregon, reached a high of 113°F on June 28, with a nighttime low of 85°F. It wasn’t just one day of scorching temperatures, though—much of the PNW experienced more than three consecutive days of highs in the triple digits, with lows staying above 65°F. With temperatures peaking in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, at 121°F, some outlets are calling this multi-day event a heat dome. Growers are feeling the impact of June’s high temperatures. How does this type of heat affect staple and specialty crops, and how can the agricultural industry in the Pacific Northwest best prepare for events like this to come? Read on for some insights from the June heat dome.

A wide variety of crops were impacted by the record-setting heat, notably berries, cherries, and even some vegetables across the region. Continue reading

Agriculture is Feeling the Flames and the Smoke

By Jacob Powell, General Agricultural Extension Agent for Sherman and Wasco Counties, Oregon State University

Plowed fields and farmhouses, with billowing smoke in the distance

Wildfires directly impact agricultural production and the lives of those who live and work in agricultural areas. Photo: Jacob Powell.

The primary focus of wildfire preparedness and prevention in the past has been in forests and the wildland urban interface. However, 75% of the area consumed by wildfires across the U.S. is in non-forested ecosystems, much of it covering rangelands and crops. Wildfires directly impact agricultural production and the lives of those who live and work in agricultural areas. Farmers and their employees are also heavily involved in efforts to control wildfires, even with potentially direct risks to their health and safety. I discuss these impacts, as well as options that are available to improve preparedness. Continue reading