Author Archives: sonia.hall

ANNOUNCEMENT – SOILCON, Washington’s Soil Health Week

Don’t forget to register for this upcoming event!

SoilCon logoWashington State University’s Soil Health Initiative with sponsorship from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education will bring together soil experts from around the world to discuss soil health. This virtual event will occur during the week of February 8-12, 2021 with sessions from 9:30-11:00 AM and 1:00-2:30 PM (PST) each day.

Our understanding of soil health’s role in agro-ecosystem productivity, sustainability, and product quality is evolving. “SoilCon: Washington Soil Health Week” will bring together worldwide experts on soil health in an engaging virtual setting.

 Topics include:

  • Status of Soil Health in the United States and Washington State
  • Soil Health Indicators
  • Soil Health Specific to Washington’s Production Systems
  • Lessons Learned from Long-term Soil Health Research

These topics will be relevant to producers, consultants, agricultural professionals, University faculty and students, policy makers, conservation districts, and interested members of the general public.

Attendance is free and open to all.

 For more information and to register: https://pheedloop.com/wasoilcon/site/home/

 

 

Check it out: How does the Columbia Basin Fare as the Timing and Volume of Snowmelt Changes?

By Sonia A. Hall

A broad river, with snow covered mountain in the background.

The Columbia River is fed by snowmelt from surrounding mountains. These waters are used for irrigating crops, as well as other uses. Snowmelt patterns are expected to change across the world as the climate continues to warm. Photo: Flickr user jaisril under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It is not always easy to extract regionally-relevant conclusions from global studies, such as the one discussed in the August 2020 CIRCulator article “Irrigated Agriculture, Snowmelt, and Climate Change.” So though many of the irrigation-dependent crops studied are not typical to the Pacific Northwest, this article discusses research that synthesizes key risk factors—whether a basin is currently dependent on snowmelt for irrigation water; how far out of sync water supplies and agricultural demand will become; can a basin realistically find new ways to store water, replacing the snowpack’s storage capacity—into a snowmelt hazard index. Big, global picture: The Columbia River Basin is expected to do better than watersheds to the south and the east, but overall received what the CIRCulator article called “a middling-but-still-worrisome snow hazard scale rating,” putting it, interestingly enough, right “next to the Tigris/Euphrates Basin.” Check out the CIRCulator article for a lot more detail, or, if you have access through a library or subscription, delve into the actual publication in Nature Climate Change.

 

Reference: 

Qin, Y., Abatzoglou, J.T., Siebert, S., Huning, L.S., AghaKouchak, A., Mankin, J.S., Hong, C., Tong, D., Davis, S.J. and Mueller, N.D., 2020. Agricultural risks from changing snowmelt. Nature Climate Change, 10(5), pp.459-465. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0746-8

Good news! US Fruit and Vegetable Supply Chains Are Resilient

By David I. Gustafson, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Biological Systems Engineering Department, Washington State University

This is an opinion piece published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin on December 13, 2020. We will be sharing further details on the results of this project through blog articles in 2021. Stay tuned!

Newspaper with this article's headline

Celebrating some good news for fruit and vegetable supply chains across the United States.

We’re all exhausted. As we near the end of what feels like the longest year of our lives, we’re now being told that we can’t enjoy the holiday season with loved ones. No more “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.” Instead, it’s Uber Eats and Zoomsgiving.

We need some good news. Especially about food, which always makes the holidays that much more special. So I’m pleased to report on a current research effort which is generating good news about US fruit and vegetable supply chains, and which I reported on at a recent science conference. Continue reading

The National Extension Climate Initiative: Expanding opportunities for learning and sharing best practices

By Paul Lachapelle, Professor Montana State University

Collage of three articles from news outlets - The New York Times, Scientific American, BBC News - on the megadrought paper

Headlines following publication of Williams et al.’s 2020 paper describing a ‘megadrought’ that might be worse than any in 1,200 years.

Increasingly, the impacts associated with our changing climate are taking a dramatic toll on our communities, not only across the Pacific Northwest, but also around the world. In the western United States, we have experienced dramatic examples of climate-related impacts. A ‘Megadrought’ is reported to be emerging in the region that might be worse than any in 1,200 years, with half of this historic drought blamed on man-made global warming (Williams et al. 2020). Meanwhile, the worst heat in 70 years threatens to take down California’s grid (Aleem, 2020). According to Eilperin (2020), a cluster of counties on Colorado’s Western Slope and in eastern Utah have warmed more than 2° Celsius, which is double the global average and impacting the potential to produce, use, and export water. Agricultural, energy, forest, and aquatic systems are in many cases being impacted and stressed to the near breaking point for parts of the year or longer.

Extension professionals are recognizing the critical importance of reaching citizens with current and accurate information about the impacts of climate change and methods of adaptation and mitigation. Continue reading

Check it out: Is Climate Change or Forest Management Causing Megafires?

By Sonia A. Hall

Mountainous landscape with smoke billowing up from wildfires

The Bobcat Fire, one of 2020’s megafires that resurfaces the question of whether forest management or climate change is driving these fires.

In response to the recent—and in California, ongoing—megafires, many have been asking whether the cause is climate change or forest management. Erin Hanan wrote a blog article arguing that this is not the right question, because in many cases both contribute to what is happening. The drivers of fire activity are complex, and the relative importance of these different drivers varies from one location and ecosystem to another.

Check out Hanan’s article to explore the five key things we need to know about the causes of the current wildfire problem. Understanding these five things can help us navigate the question of what is driving increased fire activity and, most importantly, can help us determine what can be done to reduce such large fires in the future.

ANNOUNCEMENT – WSU launches water management survey in four Washington basins

Please share the following announcement with farmers you know growing irrigated crops in the Okanogan, Methow, Walla Walla, and Yakima river basins.

"Survey on Water Management in Washington State" header with photos of regionWSU launches water management survey in Okanogan, Methow, Walla Walla, Yakima basins

Do you have views about how water should be managed within your Basin?  We want to hear them!

Washington State University scientists and collaborators will survey owners of irrigated farms this winter in the Okanogan, Methow, Walla Walla, and Yakima river basins. Insights from irrigators will help researchers develop innovations to foster water use efficiency for Northwest residents, agriculture, and the environment.

We hope that over time, the results will help you by improving irrigated farming yields and increasing the value and security of water rights. The survey does not ask any questions that would put anyone’s water right at risk of relinquishment. All responses will be kept confidential.

How You Can Be Involved: 

Continue reading

Hot, Dry Summers Take a Toll on Trees in Western Washington

By Patrick Shults, Washington State University Extension

Tops of two conifer trees, one showing dead branches at the very top, with green canopy below

Western redcedar with a dead top as a result of drought stress. Photo: Patrick Shults, WSU Extension.

The coastal Pacific Northwest is home to some of the best tree-growing conditions in the world.  Fertile soils, plenty of rain, mild temperatures, and short dry seasons allow trees to pack on solid growth each year.  These conditions also give them a significant advantage in protecting themselves from insects and disease with tactics like pitching sap to flush out bark beetles, isolating roots infected with fungus, and compartmentalizing wounds.  However, these defenses are only possible when trees can avoid environmental stressors and, given a changing climate, certain stressors are expected to become more frequent.

Trees in this area have evolved to handle an annual dry season and, generally, mild temperatures during that time ensure they don’t suffer too much stress.  However, in the last decade the coastal Pacific Northwest has experienced unusually stressful conditions.  The summers of 2015, 2017, and 2018, for instance, were very dry and also particularly hot, which worsens moisture stress in trees.  While it is difficult to attribute any given year to climate change, climate modeling suggests hotter summers like these may be a new normal, and a drive down I-5 in western Washington will show many trees have already paid a price. Continue reading

Check it out: Applying outcome-based management to address fire issues on rangelands

By Sonia A. Hall

Cowboy herding cattle at the edge of shrub steppe vegetation

The Bureau of Land Management’s outcome-based grazing management can allow and support using grazing as a tool to address fuel accumulation in rangelands. Photo: Jerry Kencke Photography under CC BY 2.0.

This past Labor Day was an extreme fire day across much of Oregon and Washington, including Douglas and Okanogan Counties in central Washington, close to where I live. Two fires—technically two because the second started “separately” when the first jumped the Columbia River close to Bridgeport—within two days got called out as being part of the top ten largest fires in modern state history (last fifty years) by the local newspaper. These were mostly rangeland fires, though not less extensive, scary, hard to control or impactful because of that. Climate change is an important contributor to the increasing fire activity we are experiencing. So what do we do about managing fires in rangelands? Check out Katie Wollstein’s blog article exploring how the Bureau of Land Management’s outcome-based grazing management can allow and support using grazing as a tool to address fuel accumulation in rangelands. You can also check out Katie’s presentation at the Society for Range Management’s 2020 annual meeting via the Art of Range podcast.

Acting to Prepare for Severe Droughts in the Yakima River Basin

By Mengqi Zhao, recent PhD graduate, Washington State University

Collage of three photos, with plants in greenhouse, a dry pond with no vegetation, and a sprinkler over a crop, close up

Figure 1. Under low water availability conditions, the reliability of irrigation systems can be enhanced through strategies that improve water supply when it is needed or reduce water demand. Examples include greenhouses (left), aquifer recharge (recharge pond, top right), and irrigation technology (bottom right). Photos: Mengqi Zhao (greenhouse and pond) and Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (sprinkler).

For more than fifty years, individuals and organizations in the Yakima River Basin (YRB) have been working toward improving water availability, especially for agriculture. The mismatch between rainfall (and snowmelt) timing and the irrigation season has focused these efforts on strategies for increasing water storage. However, farmers frequently encounter insufficient irrigation water supply and large demands from agricultural activities, resulting in prorationing across irrigation districts during every severe drought of record since 1970s. In the Pacific Northwest, projected water scarcity situations under future climate change scenarios could increase to 68% of years in the 2080s if no actions are taken, compared to only 14% of years on average historically (Vano et al., 2010).

Facing such frequent low water availability conditions, what methods can improve the reliability of irrigation systems? How might people’s decisions on adopting those methods affect system vulnerability to droughts? The fundamental solutions to these questions rely on strategies that either improve water supply when it is needed or reduce water demand. Continue reading

Compost Emissions – More Than Just a Matter of Smell

By Karen Hills

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.

Large compost pile, with facility in the background

Commercial compost facilities divert organic waste from landfills and create a beneficial soil amendment. Photo: Doug Collins.

Composting organic waste is, in many ways, a win-win scenario. It diverts waste from the landfill, while creating a valuable soil amendment. However, even composting is not without its share of environmental impacts. Large commercial composters know that emissions of smelly compounds can occur and cause unhappy neighbors. But little attention has been paid to less noticeable compounds which could have climate and air quality impacts. But how much is known about the emissions of these compounds from composting operations? Reading a recently published report by Tom Jobson and Neda Khosravi of WSU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Research helped me to better grasp the state of the science on this question. Continue reading