Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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

How Do Grocery and Meal Kit Deliveries Impact the Carbon Footprint of Our Food?

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

This article is part of a series 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.

 

Open box showing small packets of wrapped foods, with the meal kit label

HelloFresh home delivery meal services individually package ingredients for a 2-4 serving meal. Photo: Flickr user wuestenigel under CC BY 2.0.

I explored opportunities to reduce environmental impact related to food preparation and food waste in previous AgClimate.net articles. However, transportation in the food supply chain is a significant contributor to carbon emissions: all the transportation and miles in between the farm and your plate are part of the journey of fruits, vegetables, and all of your favorite foods. Those food miles and methods of transportation look different today than they did several decades ago. The “last mile” that your food travels through before it lands at your door, otherwise known as the stage from the processor or retailer to the consumer’s hands, is changing too, and it has the potential to be a great opportunity for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Americans are spending 100 billion dollars a year on online groceries alone. The home delivery meal kit industry is valued at 1.5 billion dollars in the United States and is experiencing a growth rate of 25 percent annually (Heard et al.). While 23 percent of Americans were buying their groceries online in 2016, projections indicate that up to 70 percent of consumers will make the switch by 2024, partially due to the rise in home deliveries throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (Food Marketing Institute). What do all of these at-home deliveries mean for the environment? How are our decisions on the manner in which our food arrives at our dinner table impacting the so-called “last mile” emissions? Continue reading

Check it out: Carbon Friendly Meat Consumption Patterns?

By Sonia A. Hall and Chad Kruger

Chicken and beef kebabs on a grill

Since the 1970s, beef consumption in the U.S. has decreased, while chicken consumption has increased. Photo: Flickr user purdman1 under CC BY 2.0.

There is much about economics, especially macro-economics, that I (Sonia) have a hard time understanding. Yet it’s a field that is so important, because there are so many economic factors that affect agricultural production. And though many of his articles are more about the here and now than the future and how climate change may interact with economic factors, I find many of Jayson Lusk’s blog articles interesting and understandable. Dr. Lusk is the Distinguished Professor and Head of the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University, and his most recent article directly tackles climate change by integrating information on greenhouse gas emissions from the beef and chicken we consume in the U.S., and provides some rough estimates of how those have changed since the 1970s, as our meat consumption patterns have changed.

It is important to highlight Dr. Lusk’s focus on consumption, because demand for meats is as important to understand as meat production (that is, supply), when exploring greenhouse gas emissions from the industry. Dr. Lusk reached an interesting conclusion (and I quote): “All in all, it seems meat consumption patterns have become much more carbon friendly since the 1970s.” As Dr. Lusk states, that’s not a headline one often sees. So check out Dr. Lusk’s latest blog to read on how he arrived at this conclusion, using existing data and research studies. Because even though there is uncertainty in his estimates, and he didn’t consider all the factors that could lead to variation in these emission numbers, he still found that collectively we’ve made great improvements.

Waste a Lot, Warm a Lot – Reducing Food Waste is Part of Climate-Friendly Eating

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, 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 project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborating institutions 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.

Potatoes cut to make fries, with a pile of "chips" that don't lend themselves to perfect fries, and can contribute to waste

The food waste occurring close to a consumer’s plate plays an important role in the overall environmental footprint of a given product, such as fresh market potatoes. Photo: Ernesto Andrade under CC BY-ND 2.0.

While many scientists, producers, and consumers recognize the importance of quantifying the carbon footprint of agriculture, most efforts focus on on-farm activities. The journey food takes before it lands on a consumer’s plate is complex and requires looking beyond the farm gates: as it turns out, the consumer’s plate plays an important role in the overall environmental footprint of a given product. In a recent article, we explored insights related to preparation of French fries from a study led by Ranjan Parajuli on the relative impact of different parts of the supply chain (on-farm, processor, retail, and consumer) for fresh and processed potato and tomato products. Here, we examine another aspect of supply chain impacts of potato and tomato products: food waste. The results indicate that waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  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

Check it Out: Can Biochar Be Used for Carbon Dioxide Drawdown in Washington State?

By Karen Hills

Bag full of biochar, a black gravelly material

Figure 1. Biochar has the potential to improve agricultural soils and sequester carbon. Source: USDAgov, licensed under CC PDM 1.0.

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.

In a recent study, Jim Amonette at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources developed an improved method to estimate the technical potential for biochar (Figure 1)—made from forestry residues and waste wood (Figure 2) and applied to agricultural soils in Washington State—to store carbon, drawing down atmospheric carbon (C) and contributing to mitigating climate change. Amonette selected twenty-six counties in Washington State for application of this improved method (Figure 3). For each county, Amonette developed seven biomass feedstock and biochar process scenarios including one for waste wood harvested from municipal solid waste alone, and six for waste wood combined with forestry residues from timber harvesting operations. The research generated results for each of the 26 counties. Continue reading

Sequestering Carbon in Cross-Laminated Timber

By Chris Schnepf

Panel of five layers of boards glued together perpendicular to each other.

Cross-laminated timber panels are made by gluing together three or more layers of boards perpendicular to each other. Photo: Chris Schnepf.

Most of the articles on AgClimate.net focus on adaptation; that is, how we manage fields, forests, and rangelands to adapt to anticipated changes in climate. But there is another side to dealing with climate change—how do we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? These efforts are collectively referred to as “mitigation”.

Most of our mitigation focus has been on practices to reduce emissions from cars, tractors, planes, manufacturing, livestock, etc… anything that puts greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But another part of the mitigation discussion focuses on techniques to place carbon where it can be stored long term and kept out of the atmosphere. In forestry and agriculture there is a lot of research underway on practices that sequester more carbon, from changing agricultural practices, using biochar as a soil amendment in agriculture, to managing forests in ways that retain more carbon, within fire safety limitations.

One of the unique dimensions of carbon sequestration in forestry is how materials generated in forest management are used. Continue reading

Exploring Whether Washington State Could Become the New California in Vegetable Production

By Fidel Maureira, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Washington State University

Climate variability and change—rising temperatures, more frequent heat waves, drought, less snowpack, pests and diseases, wildfires, and the resulting over-use of resources such as groundwater—are creating critical agricultural production risks for California, the leading vegetable and fruit producing area of the United States. These issues are projected to get worse in the future. In contrast, climate change-related challenges in the Columbia River Basin are projected to be less extreme and there is potential for a more favorable climate for certain agricultural products, providing the Columbia River Basin with relative competitive advantages over California. Can the irrigated areas of Washington State supplement some of the expected losses in vegetable production in California? The answer is not clear yet, but we are exploring the implications of increasing vegetable production in the Basin, using climate change projections and models that quantify how regional hydrology and crops would respond to those climatic changes (Figure 1).

Diagram showing expected changes in vegetable production and certain crops expected in the future, in Washington and California

Figure 1. Vegetable production in California will suffer a reduction in total production because of rising temperatures effects on vegetables and a higher risk of water shortages. In contrast, Washington will show positive conditions in mid-century for growing crops and good supply of water. Can the irrigated areas of Washington State supplement some of the expected losses in vegetable production in California? This could be a beginning of new vegetable production in irrigated areas of Washington. Footnotes refer to references, below.

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What can the Pacific Northwest Oyster Aquaculture Industry do about Ocean Acidification?

Market with baskets of shellfish for sale, and boards with prices in the background

Oysters for sale at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Samish Bay, WA. Photo: Brian Katz

By Thamanna Vasan and David M. Kling, Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University

Chances are that, when you go to a restaurant for oysters in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll come across a menu that features the Pacific oyster. Also known as the immigrant oyster, the Pacific oyster made its way to the Northwest in the early 1900s from Japan, and has remained a staple in aquaculture in the region due to the ease with which growers can produce the oyster and the value it holds in markets.

Over the past decade the oyster industry in the Northwest has taken a hit. Due to rapidly changing ocean conditions, a growing process that once ran like clockwork has been experiencing major glitches, and public enemy number one is ocean acidification. Continue reading

The Devil is in the Process: Co-composting Biochar Could Benefit Crop Growth and the Environment

By Karen Hills

Biochar has the potential to sequester carbon and improve the properties of soils when used as an agricultural amendment. However, biochar will only be a viable option for carbon sequestration if there are uses and viable markets for this biochar. In recent years, there has been interest in adding biochar to agricultural soils in conjunction with compost, and in some cases, “co-composting” biochar—putting the biochar in with the feedstock before the composting altogether. Read on to learn about a study led by Dr. David Gang, a professor at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, indicating that co-composting can provide additional benefits, both during the composting process and to the crops grown in soil amended with the resulting co-composted biochar.

Three people around equipment on a compost pile

Figure 1. Mark Fuchs (left), John Cleary (right) (both of the Washington Department of Ecology) and Nathan Stacey (middle, WSU) use equipment to measure gas emissions from a commercial scale co-composting experiment. Photo: Doug Collins, WSU.

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