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.

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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

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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.

A Review of Climate Change Research in the Columbia River Basin: Missing the Mark on Agriculture

By Paris Edwards

Stream through an alpine meadow, with a snowcapped mountain in the background

Headwater streams originate in mountainous areas and add critical snowmelt to summer and early fall stream flows. Slow and steady melt off of winter snowpack provides water during the dry season when crops need it most. Photo by Picasa, Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Our understanding of regional climate change effects today will be used to inform management, policy, and the new scientific endeavors of tomorrow. With this in mind, a team of doctoral students from the Water Resources Department at the University of Idaho in Moscow carried out a systematic review of all peer-reviewed studies through 2016 (550 of them) related to climate change in headwater regions of the Columbia River Basin. The purpose of the review was to explore what aspects of climate change impacts on water availability have been well studied, and where additional research is still needed (Marshall et al. 2020). We focused on mountain headwater regions because these critical water-generating areas are vulnerable to increasingly warm winter temperatures that contribute to snowpack losses and increased variability in the timing and volume of water available for multiple uses. Water availability supports values we care about and communities in our region, including irrigation; the future of irrigated agriculture in the Basin depends on water, and at least 20% of surface supply in the Basin is generated from melted snow. Continue reading

Pathways to Progress in Tackling Stormwater Runoff in Near-Urban Agricultural Areas

By Kevin Hyde, Puget Sound Partnership

Culvert draining into a pool of water with oily slick on the surface

Stormwater pollution impacts many of the things Puget Sound residents hold dear. Photo: Washington State Department of Ecology.

Stormwater runoff, particularly from roadways, is one of the leading sources of water pollution in Puget Sound. Stormwater pollution impacts people and ecosystems in different ways. Many of the things Puget Sound residents hold dear, like swimming along rivers and beaches, harvesting and eating shellfish, and fishing for salmon, are directly affected by stormwater pollution. The Puget Sound Partnership works with many groups to tackle this complex problem, and polluted stormwater runoff is a focus of the Toxics in Fish Implementation Strategy, a recovery plan that aims to reduce the levels and impacts of contaminants on Puget Sound aquatic life.

Jordan Jobe, with Washington State University Extension, points out in a recent article that stormwater pollution also has implications for local food systems and farmers. She highlights the need to better understand the impact of stormwater runoff on agricultural viability in near-urban agricultural areas, where it may impact soil health, or contaminate crops. Continue reading

Developing Biochar Markets in the Pacific Northwest

By Embrey Bronstad

This is part of a series highlighting work by Washington State University (WSU) researchers through the Waste to Fuels Technology Partnership between the Department of Ecology and WSU during the 2017-2019 biennium. This partnership advances targeted applied research and extension on emerging technologies for managing residual organic matter.

Biochar has the potential to provide a win-win for climate, soils, and forest health. Previous posts on AgClimate.net have discussed the effects of integrating biochar with composting facilities, engineering biochars for specific applications, and potential for biochar use in Washington to draw down carbon dioxide. The Pacific Northwest is particularly suited for a supporting a thriving biochar industry, both because of the ubiquity of waste woody biomass as a biochar production feedstock and the extensive agricultural acreage that could benefit from biochar application. Many researchers in the region have developed a library of evidence documenting the numerous benefits of biochar use.  So why aren’t more people producing and using it?

To increase adoption of any product, more than just the scientific benefits must be taken into consideration.  Markets have to be developed, which means knowing the minimum selling price at which biochar can be produced and the maximum purchase price potential buyers are willing to pay.  It also helps to know what the optimum application is for maximum return, for example, when are crop yields improved enough to justify the cost of putting biochar on the field?

The structure of the facility (left) and a front loader by a mound of chipped wood

Figure 1. A biomass power plant that has been modified for biochar production uses forest residues from areas of high fire hazard areas as feedstock. Photos: Josiah Hunt.

To this end, researchers from Washington State University sought to evaluate the potential market for biochar in the Pacific Northwest using techno-economic analyses that coupled both biochar production costs and agricultural returns for a number of crops. Continue reading