Author Archives: sonia.hall

Exploring the Nexus of Solar Energy and Agriculture: How Do We Invest in Climate-Friendly Energy While Ensuring the Future of our Food Supply?

By Addie Candib and Chantel Welch, American Farmland Trust

Series of solar panels over bare ground

By 2050, 90% of solar energy is expected to come from utility-scale projects in rural communities (Ardani et al. 2021). Photo: Camille Seamann/Solutions Project under CC BY 2.0

Given ambitious state and federal goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the pace of solar energy development is accelerating rapidly in the Pacific Northwest, placing significant pressure on the region’s agricultural land and its stewards. According to a US Department of Energy study, by 2050, 90% of solar energy will come from utility-scale projects in rural communities (Ardani et al. 2021). Our team at American Farmland Trust (AFT) recently looked specifically at solar development as a contributor to farmland loss (Hunter et al. 2022). In addition to the nearly 200,000 acres at risk of conversion to urban and low-density residential development, Washington State could lose as many as 86,000 acres to solar development by 2040 (Figure 1).  We estimate that about 80% of that development – or 68,800 acres – will occur on agricultural land. While this may not sound like a lot given Washington’s vast agricultural landscape, it’s equal to or more than the total acreages used by some flagship crops: barley (70,000 acres), hops (43,000 acres), cherries (39,000 acres), or onions (19,000 acres).

 The opportunity to lease land to solar developers may have considerable appeal for a farmland owner given the many challenges that face our region’s producers: unstable commodity markets, rising property values, labor shortages, climate change, and lack of successors, just to name a few. But solar leases also carry significant risk for the landowner and for the land. Here we discuss two approaches AFT is taking to help ensure that the interests and values of agricultural lands and landowners are equitably considered at all levels of decisions around solar development. Continue reading

What do Hurricanes and Soil Carbon Have in Common? The Wisdom of a Multi-Model Ensemble Approach

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

Map of the Caribbean with lines curving from the northern coast of S. America across to a widening swath of western western Cuba and southern Florida

Figure 1. Example of “spaghetti model” predictions of potential hurricane paths. Source: Samantha Kendall, “Hurricane Ian Expected to Impact Florida This Week,” posted on September 22, 2022, AllEars.net (https://allears.net/2022/09/22/tropical-weather-system-could-strengthen-to-hurricane-and-threaten-florida-next-week/).

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” So goes an apparently ancient Danish aphorism also mistakenly credited to a wide range of humorists, from Yogi Berra to Mark Twain – and even to a Nobel Laureate, Niels Bohr. Whatever its origins, it is undeniably true. I will discuss an approach for hedging our bets against an uncertain future. I will start with an example where this is already being done, and then we can tackle soil carbon. Continue reading

Check it out: Another La Niña? What Does That Say About Climate Change?

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

The weather we experience any given year is the product of a complex combination of short-term variations (think cold fronts), mid-term cycles (think of El Niño and La Niña years as an important example affecting our region), and long-term trends (think of warming due to climate change). This complexity can lead to years that do not fit either with what’s happened historically, or with what climate change science leads us to expect. Our recent experience with snow in April is an example of such “weirdness.” So I found this news article from the University of Washington really interesting. Check it out. The article discusses a study that suggests that Map of the PAcific Ocean showing cooler (blue) and warmer (red) temperaturesclimate change is, in the short term, favoring La Niña years. This is counter to the expected trend towards more frequent El Niño years as the world warms. Bottom line, there are aspects of the changes in sea temperatures that we are seeing that are not well captured in our current climate change models, which in the short term load the dice for La Niña, though in the long term we expect a switch to El Niño. And this is a great window into how the use of models in science works – weirdness is an important step in identifying what questions we still need answers to, and attracting curious minds to try to answer them.

 

Here’s the study the article discusses. It has a good plain language summary:

Wills, R.C., Dong, Y., Proistosecu, C., Armour, K.C. and Battisti, D.S., 2022. Systematic climate model biases in the large‐scale patterns of recent sea‐surface temperature and sea‐level pressure change. Geophysical Research Letters, p.e2022GL100011. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022GL100011

To find out more about El Nino and La Nina (also called El Nino Southern Oscillation or ENSO), check out the Climate.gov website on ENSO and their ENSO Blog.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Water Year Impacts Survey

Evening sky, with a center pivot over an agricultural field in the foregroundHappy 2023 Water Year! Now that the wet and dry swings of water year 2022 are complete, we want to hear from you! How was the Pacific Northwest Impacted?

We encourage you to fill out the Water Year Impact Survey. The goal of this survey is to gather information about impacts and response actions that were implemented during the 2022 water year (October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022) due to either abnormally dry or abnormally wet conditions.

The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and your responses are vital for informing both the Water Year meeting and PNW Water Year Impacts Assessment.

We greatly appreciate your contributions!

If you are interested in learning more about the Water Year and the results from this survey, we encourage you to register for this year’s virtual Water Year meeting on October 25th and 26th.
Full Survey Link: https://forms.gle/U6NsdVsEYGygGhYw7

Deficit Irrigation Can Improve Fruit Quality for Hard Cider Producers

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

Apple trees with fruit on the branches, green foliage

Cider apples in mid August under RDI treatment. Photo: Sarah Davis.

Growing up, I remember my grandfather bringing my family fresh Honeycrisp apples from his orchard in the Chelan area, describing the qualities that made them special. As an orchardist, my grandfather always strived to have delicious, high-quality produce coming from his orchards. My grandfather is not alone in this quest; growers across the state are looking for ways to enhance the quality of their crops. As climate change progresses and temperatures rise, fruit quality could be affected: climate change has been linked to delayed fruit ripening, low fruit quality, low fruit yield, sunburn, and more.  Regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) is one possible way to combat some of these impacts. Continue reading

Water Markets: The Complexity of Trading Private Rights to a Public Good

By Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Photo of legal document

Washington State 1917 Water Code declaring state waters as a public resource to be used by residents through water right acquisition.
Source: Washington State Legislature.

WSU researchers are examining water markets and barriers to their adoption as a potential strategy to adapt to climate changes. Those implementing water markets must navigate legal and administrative complexities, a big one being the need to treat water resources as both a public resource and a private property. The State of Washington holds water as a natural resource in trust for its residents, the public. Individuals or entities can then use water by securing a water right, or the right to divert a specified amount of water at a particular site and for a defined use (for example, municipal, irrigation, flows for fish, industrial). A water right is authorization to use water in a prescribed manner, not to own the water itself.

These complexities understandably lead to complicated and conflicting views about how water should and should not be transferred through water markets. Indeed, when irrigators in the Okanogan, Methow, Walla Walla and Yakima river basins in Washington State were asked two questions (via the 2021 Water Management Survey) to gauge how they thought about the balance between water rights as private property and water as a public natural resource, responses were split, and in some cases even contradictory. Continue reading

The Climate Commitment Act is Coming. How Will it Impact Washington Agriculture?

Dani Gelardi, Washington State Department of Agriculture

A new mandate

WEED-IT infrared spray equipment being used as a demostration in stubble that has not been tilled in Douglas County.

Agriculture accounts for an estimated 6.7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. Could the Climate Commitment Act pose opportunities to help reduce or offset those emissions? Photo: Leslie Michel.

On January 1st, 2023, major portions of the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) will launch in Washington State. This ambitious law is part of Washington’s plan to eliminate or offset all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates that agriculture accounts for 6.7% of the total emissions in Washington. Despite this sizable GHG contribution, agriculture is exempt from CCA mandates, due to existing laws that already regulate this sector. While it remains uncertain how regulations facing the food manufacturing sector may eventually impact agricultural producers, the CCA will not cap emissions from the production of unprocessed livestock and crops. Does this mean these activities will be entirely unaffected? Continue reading

Deficit Irrigation Conserves Water in Agriculture to Aid in Combating Water Stress

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

A group of red apples, showing a sticker labeling them from Chelan

Washington state produce can be found in supermarkets across the world. These Chelan apples were found in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Flickr user Dennis Sylvester Hurd, under CC0 1.0 Universal

Washington State has nearly 15 million acres of farmland with around 39,000 operating farms, each producing necessary agricultural commodities. A few of the most well-known crops that are produced and distributed from Washington State are apples, cherries, hops, raspberries, and pears. Even when traveling across the country, I can find Chelan apples, which shows just how productive the state is in their cultivation of high value foods. Many of the 39,000 operating farms require irrigation to produce much of the aforementioned fruit that get distributed far and wide, which consumes a large portion of water resources. Continue reading

Challenges with Renewable Energy and How Biofuels Can Help

By Janelle Christensen, MESM, ORISE Science Communication fellow for the USDA Northwest Climate Hub

Wind turbines over a grassland with livestock

Renewable energy like wind power could help to reduce some of the biggest impacts from climate change. Photo: NRCS Montana.

In the face of climate change, much of the world looks to renewable energy. It offers the promise of preventing some of the worst impacts from climate change while allowing us to continue to live similar to how we do currently. Although we need to change how we live in addition to using renewables, without them, we would need to completely revert to pre-industrial times. However, I can guarantee that as I write this on my laptop in my air-conditioned house at my remote job that that is out of the question. With a power grid that runs off clean energy, the changes and reductions we make in our day-to-day lives have a larger impact. If we choose public transportation over driving, it makes a bigger difference if that train runs off a renewable energy powered grid. If we change to more efficient, long-lasting light bulbs and we use solar to power those bulbs, we are wasting less and not emitting carbon dioxide to power our house. The combination of action and renewables is powerful, but switching to 100% renewable energy has some challenges. Continue reading

Putting a Price on Water: Would Price Disclosure Increase Water Market Participation?

By Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Diagram with a river in a valley and two hands in a handshake superimposed

Water markets are one of several potential climate change adaptation strategies being studied to increase water availability to meet the needs of multiple uses. Image: Sonia A. Hall

Water markets are one of several potential climate change adaptation strategies being studied to increase water availability to meet the needs of multiple uses (farming, fish and new development). On AgClimate.net we have previously explored water markets and a number of barriers to more active participation. This article focuses on price disclosure barriers, or the challenges posed by the fact that it is not always easy for those who have water rights and those who are seeking to lease or buy water to know what a fair price is. Potential water market participants mostly do not want others to know if they are interested in buying, leasing or selling water, or the prices at which water transactions are made. At the same time, it is difficult for water right holders and farmers in irrigation districts to know what a “fair” price (that is, the price that most buyers would expect to pay and sellers would expect to receive) is for a given water right. Continue reading