Category Archives: Agricultural Practices

How What We Don’t Know Affects Our Ability to Prepare for Future Climates

Q&A with Aroma Hops Breeder Dr. Shaun Townsend

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

 

This article is part of a series where we share insights from conversations that I had with public plant breeders across the Pacific Northwest about their breeding programs and how climate change considerations intersect with their work. Through these conversations, I wanted to better understand the complexities of the plant breeders’ world, where there are elements that already provide useful information about adapting to future climates, and where there are questions—about the climate in the future, or the plants’ responses, or production, market, or other factors affecting a particular crops’ future—that intersect or even overshadow questions about how to prepare for future climates.

Hop plant with stunted leaves and stems

Hop plant infected by downy mildew, a “tough nut to crack” for breeding tolerance to diseases. Photo: Shaun Townsend.

Maintaining yields under stressful climate-driven conditions is important in Oregon State University’s aroma hop breeding program, as in most breeding programs. However, two other aspects drive the work of Dr. Shaun Townsend, Associate Professor, Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University. The first is how warmer (and maybe drier) springs could, maybe, help reduce the impacts of downy mildew, a “tough nut to crack” for breeding tolerance to diseases. Before I discuss my second take-away (it is about beer), see what Dr. Townsend had to say about breeding aroma hops for future climates.

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Adapting to Climate Change in the Yakima Basin: Agriculture’s Volatility and Tradeoffs

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

field seen under the arm of a central pivot irrigation system

Fifty percent of the Yakima Basin’s agriculture is irrigated. Photo: Vidar Mathisen, Unsplash.

The Yakima River Basin is a snow-dependent, agriculturally important region in Washington state, leading in production of many commodities and specialty crops. Nearly 50% of agricultural production in the Yakima Basin is irrigated, and is vulnerable to future expected temperature increases and severe droughts. Researchers at Cornell and Washington State Universities, led by Dr. Keyvan Malek, evaluated the impacts of changes in temperature, water availability, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on irrigated agriculture in this Basin and examined the effectiveness of potential strategies to mitigate the negative effects on crop yields.

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Using Timing of Risks and Benefits to Breed Barley for Future Climates

Q&A with Barley Breeder Dr. Patrick Hayes

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

 

This article is part of a series where we share insights from conversations that I had with public plant breeders across the Pacific Northwest about their breeding programs and how climate change considerations intersect with their work. Through these conversations, I wanted to better understand the complexities of the plant breeders’ world, where there are elements that already provide useful information about adapting to future climates, and where there are questions—about the climate in the future, or the plants’ responses, or production, market, or other factors affecting a particular crops’ future—that intersect or even overshadow questions about how to prepare for future climates.

Headshot of Patrick Hayes in front of a green field

Dr. Patrick Hayes, OSU. Photo: Ron Silberstein, Admiral Malting, Alameda CA

Barley, like wheat, can be sown in the fall, overwinter, and grow and mature the next season, or can be planted in the early spring, and have a shorter, quicker growing season. For a variety of reasons, however, spring barley is considered “the good one” for malting and producing beer. Yet as Dr. Patrick Hayes, Oregon State University’s malting barley breeder, works to develop barley varieties that will be grown under future climates, fall barley is key. The timing of growth and the resources it taps can help avoid a variety of issues that will otherwise impact barley yields and quality (whose main indicator is the percent protein in the grain). Read on for Dr. Hayes’s explanation of why fall barley is becoming increasingly attractive.

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To Be or Not to Be – Considerations at the Intersection of Breeding Apples and Climate Change

Q&A with Apple Breeder Dr. Kate Evans

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

 

This article is the first in a series where we share insights from public plant breeders around the Pacific Northwest on their breeding programs and how climate change considerations intersect with their work. These conversations are about understanding the complexities of the plant breeders’ world, where there are elements that already provide useful information about adapting to future climates, and where there are questions—about the climate in the future, or the plants’ responses, or production, market, or other factors affecting a particular crops’ future—that intersect or even overshadow questions about how to prepare for future climates.

 

Headshot of Kate Evans with a leafy background

Dr. Kate Evans, WSU.

I recently had some highly educational and thought-provoking conversations with Kate Evans, Professor of the Department of Horticulture and director of the Pome (apple and pear) Fruit Breeding Program at Washington State University. These conversations broadened my thinking on plant breeding and climate change from a focus on understanding to what extent plant breeders might be considering climate change in their breeding programs, to all the complexity of what plant breeding is about, how it fits into a much broader context of production and management practices that can help growers adapt to a changing climate, and the range of challenges and opportunities that face a crop—in this case apples—and its associated industry as we experience and prepare for the changes our climate will bring. Here’s what Dr. Evans had to say.


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Check it out: Tree Fruit Breeders’ Approaches to the Challenges of a Changing Climate

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

Part of an apple tree with bright red apples in the foreground and the green canopy behind

Future climatic conditions could be an increased area of focus for plant breeding programs. Photo: Flickr user LaraS96 under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With my colleagues on the AgClimate.net team we’ve been discussing plant breeding and climate change for a while, and are actually working on some articles about that relating to our Pacific Northwest crops and growing conditions. So I was intrigued to see this article by Leslie Mertz in the Good Fruit Grower magazine titled Breeding for uncertainty. Mertz starts off by saying “Developing a new tree-fruit cultivar is a long process that begins with breeders deciding which specific traits growers will want 15, 20 or even 30 years into the future.” And close to the end she states “Of course, breeding for the future is always difficult, but it has been made much more so with the extent and effects of climate change being unknown.” In between, though, Mertz discusses existing breeding programs that have used expected future climate conditions to select traits to focus on, and are taking on the added challenge of uncertainty about future climates. Check it out.

And stay tuned for some other articles exploring how climate change intersects with plant breeding efforts underway in the Pacific Northwest.

Climate Analogs for Specialty Crops: See the Future Now

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at 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 (F&V CAMO) 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.

 

Photo collage showing a prophet, a crystal ball, a ouija board and a scene from Star Trek

Figure 1. We have always longed to see the future, whether via prophets,
crystal balls, science fiction, or even through the use of Ouija boards.

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” So said Yogi Berra, repeating a version of the apparently Danish proverb whose origins have been lost. Nevertheless, as difficult and logically impossible as it might be, humanity has an innate longing to see the future (Figure 1). Ancient kings kept prophets among their advisors. Fortune tellers make a living by gazing into crystal balls. Hasbro sells Ouija boards for $20.99. And among the most popular of today’s entertainment genres is science fiction.  Continue reading

Building Better Biochar Breakthroughs: A Roadmap for Biochar Research

By Embrey Bronstad, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

What is the first thing you think when you hear “Black Gold”? Is it the theme song for the Beverly Hillbillies? A baritone “Texas Tea”? Well, some people think “BIOCHAR!”

Hand holding a handful of dark, soil-like substance

A climate and farming boon: Biochar! Photo: Flickr user mavnjess under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Now, if you are reading this article, you probably know what biochar is. You have probably heard about its benefits when integrated with compost or used in dairy lagoons. A clear opportunity exists for the implementation of biochar technology to mitigate climate change through its ability to sequester carbon. Indeed, a recent estimate suggests that implementation of biochar at scale in Washington State could offset between 8 and 19% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions (Amonette 2021a). Application of biochar to agricultural soils may also help producers adapt to climate change by improving soil water-holding capacity in settings where water resources during the growing season are expected to become scarcer. Also, by enhancing formation of soil organic matter, these amendments would increase soil health and resilience, thereby helping to ensure continued high levels of agricultural production as the climate changes. In addition to these climatological and agricultural benefits, biochar has great potential to address wildfire risk, improve forest health, restore ecosystem services, and revitalize rural economies (Amonette et al., 2021b).

Despite a burgeoning library of research into biochar over the last two decades, there remain significant knowledge gaps, Continue reading

The ‘Carbon Market Bazaar’: Future Windfall for Producers or Just Hot Air?

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at 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 (F&V CAMO) 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.

 

Sellers along a high-ceiling building show their wares, including rugs, bags, and many other items

Emerging carbon markets for U.S. agriculture today may be compared to a Middle Eastern bazaar: hints of danger and mystery. But there might be a genuine bargain that could be the perfect and profitable fit for your operation. Photo: Blondinrikard Froberg under CC BY 2.0.

I’m a fan of action movies, where a Middle Eastern bazaar is a popular place for high-speed chases. Even without the careening bullets and motorcycles, there are hints of danger and mystery amidst the clamor and unknown languages filling the air. You barter over the selling price of exotic objects that cannot be found anywhere else. Am I about to pay ten times what something is really worth? So it is with the emerging carbon market and U.S. agriculture today. Major companies like Bayer and upstarts like Indigo Ag and Nori are now offering to purchase carbon credits directly from producers for the adoption of new practices they agree to begin employing on their fields. But what is this worth to producers? Continue reading

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.

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