Waste a Lot, Warm a Lot – Reducing Food Waste is Part of Climate-Friendly Eating

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, 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 collaborating institutions 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.

Potatoes cut to make fries, with a pile of "chips" that don't lend themselves to perfect fries, and can contribute to waste

The food waste occurring close to a consumer’s plate plays an important role in the overall environmental footprint of a given product, such as fresh market potatoes. Photo: Ernesto Andrade under CC BY-ND 2.0.

While many scientists, producers, and consumers recognize the importance of quantifying the carbon footprint of agriculture, most efforts focus on on-farm activities. The journey food takes before it lands on a consumer’s plate is complex and requires looking beyond the farm gates: as it turns out, the consumer’s plate plays an important role in the overall environmental footprint of a given product. In a recent article, we explored insights related to preparation of French fries from a study led by Ranjan Parajuli on the relative impact of different parts of the supply chain (on-farm, processor, retail, and consumer) for fresh and processed potato and tomato products. Here, we examine another aspect of supply chain impacts of potato and tomato products: food waste. The results indicate that waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Continue reading

Save the Date: 2021 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply & Demand Forecast Workshops

Header with photo of Columbia RiverJoin us to learn about the draft results of the 2021 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply & Demand Forecast!

The Washington Department of Ecology in conjunction with Washington State University is preparing the 2021 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast.

As part of the process we’re getting ready to share the report with stakeholders who rely on water supplies in Eastern Washington. Comments on the report will begin June 2 and run through July 2, with online meetings planned for June 8 and June 17.  Today we’re inviting you to put this on your calendars and to pre-register for one of the meetings (see details below).

Issued every five years, the Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast provides a generalized, system-wide assessment of how future environmental and economic conditions are likely to change water supply and demand by the 2040s across Washington’s Columbia River Basin. Changes are evaluated for four spatial layers: the entire Columbia River basin, Eastern Washington’s watersheds, Eastern Washington’s aquifers, and Washington’s Columbia River mainstem.

The Washington Water Research Center at Washington State University leads this effort in close collaboration with Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. The Forecast results inform water supply planning efforts, and help OCR strategically fund water supply projects by improving understanding of where additional water supply is most critical for meeting water needs, now and in the future.

Register at https://ecology.wa.gov/2021Forecast to join us at one of two upcoming virtual meetings to learn about the preliminary Forecast results and comment on the draft report:

  • 2:30-5:30 pm, Tuesday, June 8 
  • 8:30-11:30 am, Thursday, June 17

If you can’t attend a meeting, you will still be able to review the draft report and comment once the draft Forecast is released on June 2. When it is ready, the draft Forecast will be available at https://ecology.wa.gov/2021Forecast. The website will also include links and contact information for commenting.

If you have further questions, please contact Jennifer Stephens at jennifer.stephens@ecy.wa.gov or (509) 575-2396.

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Cover Crops, Community and Climate Change

By Avery Lavoie, Fellow at Oakridge Institute for Science and Education, Environmental Protection Agency, and recent University of Idaho graduate.

Group of people in an agricultural field

Cover crops could be one way to help dryland crop producers adapt to climate change by reducing soil erosion, improving soil fertility, and improving moisture holding capacity. Demonstration field trip in Okanogan, WA. Photo: Avery Lavoie.

Across the nation, there is an increased interest in cover crops: those planted during the fallow period or in place of a cash crop to improve soil and water quality and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In the inland Pacific Northwest, dryland crop producers may experience an increase in spring precipitation by 5-15% over the next 40-70 years (Painter, Borrelli, and Steury 2014), warmer temperatures, and drier summers. Although not widely used, cover crops could be one way to help dryland crop producers adapt to climate change by reducing soil erosion and improving moisture holding capacity, as well as improving soil fertility.

Researchers, extension agents, and conservation agencies are collaborating with crop and livestock producers to determine what will best support their livelihoods and sustain the soil and land for future generations (See REACCH and LIT Projects). But will this work address the challenges that are keeping producers from adopting adaptive practices like cover crops? Dr. Chloe Wardropper and I were interested in hearing directly from crop and livestock producers about their perspectives on those challenges and the potential opportunities for increasing cover crop adoption. Continue reading

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fryer: Climate Mitigation Opportunities for French Fries

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

 This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies (see sidebar), 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.

Top: oven dish with frozen french fries laid out. Bottom: a saucepan with fries in bubbling oil.

The way food is prepared presents a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Photos: Chris Campbell under CC BY-NC 2.0 (top); Flickr user Joy under CC BY 2.0.

Efforts to quantify the carbon footprint of agriculture are often focused on the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from on-farm activities, mostly from fertilizer production and the energy required for use of farm implements. While you, as a climate change-conscious consumer, may place your attention on the environmental impact of your food before it arrives in your grocery bag, a recent study published in the Science of the Total Environment examined the relative impact of different parts of the supply chain (on-farm, processor, retail, and consumer) for potato and tomato products, both fresh and processed. Study authors from the University of Arkansas, led by Ranjan Parajuli, assert that the way food is prepared presents a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the goal is to reduce the overall environmental foodprint, changing the way potatoes are cooked may make more of a difference than how the potatoes themselves were grown. Continue reading

Ice, Ice…Maybe?

Q&A with Anders Carlson and Aaron Hartz of the Oregon Glaciers Institute

By Paris Edwards

Did you know that the Northwest is the most glacier-rich region in the lower 48? Glaciers throughout the region provide essential cool, late-summer water for irrigation, fish, and for our taps. Their fate under warming climate conditions, however, is shaky. Even though glacial melt water is crucial to ecosystems and economies alike, we know shockingly little about how much water glaciers provide or where it flows.

Two people in snow gear and skis in a snow field, with a snow covered mountain in the background

Anders Carlson (left) and Aaron Hartz (right) are founders of the new Oregon Glaciers Institute. Photo credit: Jason Sotomayor.

Aaron Hartz and Anders Carlson, founders of the new Oregon Glaciers Institute, are friends, scientists, and potentially part mountain goat. Their mission is to document and study the causes of change for Oregon’s poorly understood and undervalued glaciers, by foot and by photo, and to provide projections of each glacier’s future. Both Oregon State University alumni, collectively they bring decades of full-spectrum knowledge and experience that spans professorial expertise, and the hard-won nitty-gritty knowhow that comes from avid exploration of high alpine terrain. I talked to these intrepid scientists and adventurers about what inspired their work and what they are discovering about the current and future health of one of the region’s essential water resources.

Continue reading

How Can New Remote Sensing Technologies Help Evaluate the Effectiveness of Resource Conservation Measures?

By Amanda Stahl and Alexander Fremier, Washington State University

Grassy area with GPS equipment on a tripod in the foreground and trees along a riparian corridor in the background.

Conserving riparian areas means a small footprint can contribute to protecting a county’s Critical Areas and mitigate the effects of climate change. Photo: Amanda Stahl.

Washington State is taking steps to foster environmental stewardship in agriculture using an alternative approach to direct regulatory oversight. Twenty-seven counties in Washington have opted into the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP), which requires them to self-assess (with state oversight) whether voluntary management actions are maintaining or enhancing Critical Areas. Critical Areas include wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, critical aquifer recharge areas, frequently flooded areas, and geologically hazardous areas. Most counties cite riparian conservation measures as a strategy to maintain or enhance at least one type of Critical Area. Riparian conservation measures, like planting or allowing natural vegetation to grow, can also address the impacts of climate change, providing shade to cool water in the stream, improving habitat for species stressed by climate change, and possibly helping moderate extremes in moisture availability year-round. Conserving small land areas can thus have a large impact for mitigating the effects of climate change. The question is, how can we quickly determine if these measures are working, and meeting the goals of the VSP? Continue reading

Climate Change in Extension: Elevating and Amplifying Action

Hillslope covered in trees, with fog or smoke in the background, and the title of the conferenceWhat is the current state of affairs and where are we headed with regard to climate change programming in Extension? Discover more by joining “Climate Change in Extension: Elevating and Amplifying Action,” a virtual national action forum hosted by the National Extension Climate Initiative April 19-21, 2021. There is no fee to participate and all are welcome. Below is the agenda and link to register.

Agenda: https://nationalextensionclimateinitiative.net/events/ and below.

Register here: https://forms.gle/XnWZZW6mpdSE5Urd6

Continue reading

What Does Climate Change Mean for Flooding in the Columbia River Basin?

By Karen Hills

Aerial view of farms along a river with flood waters in fields and around buildings

Figure 1. The Pacific Northwest was hit by an historic flood in February 1996. Corps dams were put to the test and held back as much of the flood waters as possible, but too much rain fell in the valley below the dam. As a result, many communities in western Oregon felt the impacts of the flood waters. Photo: Portland Corps under CC BY 2.0.

Previous posts on AgClimate.net have focused on research related to anticipated climate change impacts on water availability and timing of available irrigation water in the Columbia River Basin, given the concern with having sufficient water to support the range of uses in the region. But is too little water the only concern? Laura Queen of the Oregon State University Climate Change Research Institute is the author of a recently published paper titled “Ubiquitous increases in flood magnitude in the Columbia River Basin under climate change.” Queen and her colleagues explain how in systems dominated by snowmelt, as is common in the Pacific Northwest, observational studies have shown consistent changes toward earlier spring streamflow and lower summer streamflow. This change has important implications for water users in the region. Less frequently discussed are the anticipated impacts on flooding (Figure 1), which is second only to fire in federal disaster declarations brought about by natural disasters in the Pacific Northwest. Continue reading

Check it out: Some Thoughts on Plant Breeding to Adapt to Climate Change

By Sonia A. Hall

graphic showing 10 commodities, and their value in dollars

The top agricultural commodities in Washington do not include corn. Yet questions being explored in corn can be relevant to these and many other crops produced in the Pacific Northwest. Screenshot from the Washington State Department of Agriculture website, accessed March 8, 2021. https://agr.wa.gov/washington-agriculture

Maize, or corn, may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about agriculture in the Pacific Northwest (though 275,000 acres, of corn were harvested in 2020 in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, according to the US Department of Agriculture QuickStats). However, I was intrigued by a recent article focused on corn in ScienceDaily titled Climate-adapted plant breeding: Improvement of crops with genes from seed banks. The research paper the article discusses is about molecular technologies that allow researchers to scan the entire genome of different corn plants, which then allows them to link the data from field trials to genes that are relevant to specific traits. But what I found more intriguing was the discussion that framed why being able to do this is important. Continue reading

Check it out: Putting Oregon’s September Fires in Past—and Future—Context

By Sonia A. Hall

Roadside Fire Danger sign showing "Extreme" danger

Fire danger was considered extreme on and around Labor Day 2020. Close to the Beachie Fire in Marion County, OR. Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation, under CC BY 2.0.

Most of us probably agree that 2020 was an unprecedented year in many ways. Much of the western U.S. will remember 2020 for, among other things, the extensive fires that burned across many states. One of those states is Oregon, where climatic and weather conditions converged during Labor Day to enable large fires across the western slopes of the Cascades. Check out climatologists John Abatzoglou, David Rupp, and Larry O’Neill’s article titled Climate Enabling Conditions and Drivers of the Western Oregon Wildfires of 2020. They discuss the conditions that enabled these fires, and provide some historical context for their occurrence. Spoiler alert: their concluding paragraph states that “The best science available indicates that the conditions that enable large wildfires and wildfire seasons will become more common as a result of climate change and past and current land management and land use.” Many communities are heeding this information and working towards reducing vulnerabilities and improving resilience, to better deal with future fires. Please share with us and AgClimate.net readers those tools, resources and information you have found useful in such efforts.  You can comment on this post, or contact us via the Ask A Question tab.