Category Archives: Agricultural Practices

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

Animal Alert: Heat Wave on its Way May Cause Problems for Livestock Producers and Their Animals

By Donald A. Llewellyn, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Livestock Extension Specialist, Washington State University Extension, and

Craig McConnel, DVM, Ph.D., Associated Professor/Veterinary Medicine Extension, Washington State University Extension

Cattle in the shade of two small trees surrounded by open rangeland

Providing shade, in addition to cool, clean water and avoiding stressful handling can help livestock weather heat waves. Photo provided by Don Llewellyn.

A heat wave is expected to engulf much of the Inland Northwest over the next week with daytime temperatures above 100 degrees in many areas.  These temperatures will put livestock and pet well-being at risk.  Commercial producers and youth with animal projects should prepare now for the upcoming heat and dangerous conditions.  Here are a few general suggestions to keep your animals safe, but also keep in mind each of the various species of domesticated animals with have specific needs.

  • Avoid stressful handling of livestock and if necessary only do so in the early morning hours or late in the evening.
  • If animals are in a barn or shed, ensure that they have proper ventilation and air circulation.
  • For animals outside, provide shade if possible.
  • Provide a continuous supply of cool, clean water.

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

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

Managing for Washington’s Future: A Bigger Player in Veggie Production

By Fidel Maureira, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Washington State University

Cartoon of hilly landscape with rows of vegetables.

Cartoon adapted from https://pixabay.com (free for commercial use; no attribution required).

A few months ago I wrote an article that gave a preview of the work we were conducting, to explore whether Washington State could become the new California in vegetable production as the climate warms. Results from this work are now in, and the answer is… yes, the potential is definitely there. Continue reading