Category Archives: Impacts & Adaptation

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: Learning for the Future from a Snapshot in Time

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

Report cover with name and a photo of a vegetable field with slanting sunlight and trees in the background

The 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Assessment, an example of what we can learn one year that helps us prepare for the long term. Source: cover of the report, available at https://www.drought.gov/documents/2021-pacific-northwest-water-year-impacts-assessment

I just received the 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Impacts Assessment. If you want to delve into the details of how temperatures and precipitation evolved throughout the water year (which runs from October 1 through September 30), check out section 3. If you want to understand what the unusual combination of conditions we experienced meant for the agriculture, forestry, drinking water, fisheries, and recreation sectors, check out section 4. If you want to learn about institutional responses to these conditions, then check out section 5. You can even explore how well the seasonal forecasting used by many in the region did at predicting what actually happened (section 6).

This report really got me thinking about the question: what can we learn from the assessment of this one year (granted, it was an unusual year) that can help us prepare for what’s to come as the climate continues to warm? Continue reading

A Cornucopia of Opportunities for Domestic Produce

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.

A pile of fresh vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, leafy greens and leeks

Eat your fruit and vegetables. Can farmers grow the necessary produce for all Americans to each five servings of fruits and vegetables daily? Photo: Shiela Sund under CC BY 2.0.

Most of our moms urged us to “eat our fruits and vegetables,” and multiple studies confirm this motherly advice. For instance, the U.S. National Institutes of Health recently reported that consuming more fruits and vegetable results in reduced mortality. Unfortunately, the same report tells us what we already know: most Americans don’t consume anywhere near the five servings a day needed for maximum health benefits.

But what if we did? Could America’s farmers grow all of that additional produce? Continue reading

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

A New Approach to Increasing the Use of Prescribed Fire in Oregon

By John Rizza and Emily Jane Davis, Oregon State University Extension

 

Person pouring fuel on a large pile of slash, with other parts of the pile smoking in the background

After mechanical treatments occur, prescribed fire can help to reduce the accumulation of fuels so that the landscape is more resilient to future wildfires. Photo: Emily Jane Davis.

The health and function of many of Oregon’s forest ecosystems have historically been driven by and supported with fire. The warming and drying climate conditions observed in recent years are adding to the likelihood of severe, large-scale disturbances. The data and literature suggest that wildfires, along with insects and disease issues, are altering the landscape at an accelerated rate (Schimel et al., 2021). After nearly two centuries of decreased fire frequency, our landscapes have accumulated heavy fuel loads that are increasingly likely to feed very large fires. The fire effects are also becoming more severe, which is contributing to the decline in the health of these valuable landscapes. Prescribed fire, an important tool for reinstating fire’s beneficial role in these landscapes, is challenging to implement. To address some of these barriers to prescribed fire use, efforts are underway in Oregon that take a new approach. Continue reading

Extreme Adaptation: Navigating the Troubled Waters of the ‘New Normal’

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.

 

Water. H 2 O. It’s the dominant molecule of our lives. We are 60% water (on average). Life as we know it is only possible because our planet has so much water. We can survive a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water. The oceans are believed to have formed around 4 billion years ago, and so are nearly as old as the planet itself. The hydrologic cycle—the series of processes by which water evaporates from those oceans, condenses as clouds, and then returns to the earth as freshwater—forms the primary basis for our existence.

Map of the US, with most of the midwest and east showing increases in average precipitation, and most of the west, especially the southwest, showing decreases

Figure 1. Comparison of the ‘new normal’ annual precipitation averages (1991-2020) with the previous 30-year averages (1981-2010). Source: NOAA.

Water is actually the most important greenhouse gas: without water in the atmosphere, the average temperature of our planet would be around 0°F… a mammoth version of those chic, spherical ice ‘cubes.’ But the average temperature of the earth is 60°F and climbing. As the world’s oceans continue to warm, water evaporates more rapidly, and the hydrologic cycle accelerates. All that water must come back down somewhere, so annual precipitation levels across the planet are also increasing. Continue reading