Category Archives: Impacts & Adaptation

Check It Out: Virtual Fencing Can Exclude Cattle from Burned Areas in Large, Sagebrush Steppe Rangelands

By Morgan Lawrence, USDA Northwest Climate Hub

A cow grazes the sagebrush steppe

Sagebrush steppe rangelands play a crucial role in the success of Northwest ranching operations. Photo: Ben Amstutz under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Extensive sagebrush steppe rangelands play a crucial role in the success of Northwest ranching operations, allowing livestock to graze throughout the spring and summer months on fresh forage. However, as wildfire frequency and size increase in sagebrush steppe due to climate change, burned areas of varying sizes within these rangelands will need to be rested as they recover. Ranchers and rangeland managers will need new, cost-effective methods of separating cattle from these sensitive, burned areas on public rangelands while still grazing neighboring unburned areas.

Virtual fencing presents a compelling climate change adaptation option for doing just that. Continue reading

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

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

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

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 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

Adaptive Governance Emerges in Response to Increasing Change and Complexity in our Social-Environmental-Technological Systems

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture at Washington State University


Collage with photos of salmon in thver, a landscape with cliffs and the river, and a large, snow covered mountain

Pacific Northwest resources that are susceptible to climate change. Upper left: sockeye salmon are susceptible to warming stream temperatures brought on by climate change. Image credit: National Park Service. Upper right: Snowpack in the region, like that seen on Mt. Rainier is declining as temperatures rise. Photo: Ashlynn Murphy, Unsplash. Lower panel: Demand for water is rising and stresses on supply are exacerbated by climate change meaning the Columbia River and other important water bodies are likely to experience declines in streamflow. Photo: Elian Sarkinen, Unsplash.

Let’s examine the expected consequences of climate change on water resources in the Pacific Northwest. By mid-century, spring snowmelt in the region is expected to occur three to four weeks earlier and summer streamflow is expected to decline. In the Cascades, measurements of snowpack on April 1 have already declined by as much as 20% since the 1950s. At lower elevations, more precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow which increases flood risks, and reduces snow accumulation and soil moisture, increasing wildfire risk in the following months. Demand for water by the region’s inhabitants is rising and is expected to continue to do so and climate change will exacerbate stresses on water supply. Lower streamflow could also reduce hydropower supply which could cause economic losses in the region. Climate change will also warm the region’s waters which have been noted to increase spring and summer mortality in Chinook and sockeye salmon. All aquatic species will also be impacted by reduced summer flows and increased flooding and winter flows. Finally, these changes to water supply will undoubtedly impact the region’s agriculture and could harm crop yields, as I discussed in a recent article.  

This is but one example of the complex challenges and considerations potentially faced by our social, environmental and technological systems (which are interconnected, and collectively called SETs) in the Pacific Northwest and more broadly across the globe. The myriad, complicated challenges faced by SETs will require adept responses — and in some cases transformation — for successful adaptation. Traditionally, our municipal, state, or even federal government have addressed the negative impacts of interaction between society and environment largely through bureaucratic management and regulation. However, in a recent study, University Distinguished Professor Emerita Barbara Cosens from the University of Idaho and her fellow researchers from across the United States and the European Union (brought together by the NSF funded National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, SESYNC) posit that these traditional forms of government lack the flexibility and adaptability to quickly respond to the fast-paced and dynamic issues that we are facing today. Instead, the authors discuss the need for adaptive governance—a form of governance that involves self-organization of both the private and public sectors and formal and informal institutions that can fill roles in addressing the challenges SETs face. Within an adaptive governance framework, actors such as non-profits, community groups, and private stakeholders (e.g. businesses, concerned citizens) could interact with local and regional governments to engage in solution-oriented responses to environmental and social change.  Continue reading

What We Know and Don’t Know to Effectively Breed Potatoes for Future Climates

Q&A with Potato Breeder Dr. Sagar Sathuvalli

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.

head shot of person holding an uprooted potato plant

Vidyasagar (Sagar) Sathuvalli, Oregon State University potato breeder, in a test plot at the OSU Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Potato is a high-value, irrigated crop grown across Pacific Northwest states. It is affected by a range of pests and diseases, including many soil-borne pathogens. The need to break the cycle of some of these pathogens is a driver of crop rotation decisions. In my conversation with Dr. Sagar Sathuvalli, Associate Professor, Potato Breeding and Genetics at Oregon State University, it was clear that plant breeding had an important role to play in resistance to a wide range of pests and pathogens. He described a two-fold challenge to breeding for future climates. First, potato breeders don’t yet have good data on how climate change might change the dynamics of different pests and pathogens, and which might become greater threats in the future. And second, breeders must meet high expectations: neither yield nor quality can be compromised in pursuit of tolerance to climate-driven biotic or abiotic stresses. So here is how Dr. Sathuvalli is approaching these issues.

Continue reading

Check it out: High Temperatures are Threatening Pollination of Crops in the Pacific Northwest

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

Close up of bee on blossom

Pollination is key for all crops to survive and produce seeds, fruit, and grains. Photo: Flickr user Conall under CC BY 2.0

Throughout the last year, I have spent hours researching and writing about molecular techniques to combat heat and drought stress in agricultural crops while completing my undergraduate capstone project. So, when I found an article describing how the integrity of pollen is threatened by increasing temperatures, it seemed extremely relevant to both my project as well as my new internship at Washington State University where I am researching sustainable ways to address climate change impacts on tree fruit.

Continue reading

Our Five-Year Mission … to Boldly Go Where No Integrated Model Has Gone Before

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 that was co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators included 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 identified and tested climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

Star ship flying around a planet

Figure 1. Still image from the original Star Trek TV series. Source: Maurice Mitchell (

As a child of the sixties, I can still remember our family sitting together to watch the coolest show on television, Star Trek (Figure 1). Every episode began with these poetic words: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

These words came to mind as I reflect on the conclusion of our five-year project to develop and apply the powerful tools of integrated modeling for a unique purpose: to identify climate adaptation and mitigation opportunities in U.S. fruit and vegetable (F&V) supply chains. Continue reading

Water Markets’ Potential for Addressing Drought, Water Availability

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

sockeye fish in river, center pivot irrigating field, mostly dry river bed with narrow flow of water at the bottom

Water markets is one potential tool for moving water between uses such as instream water for sockeye in the Yakima Basin (top left; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology) or irrigating crop fields (top right; photo: Aspect Consulting). Such movement can be particularly important when flows are low (Walla Walla River runs low late in the irrigation season (bottom; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology).

As climate change increases the likelihood of a mismatch in the timing of when water is needed and when it is available, policymakers, water managers, and water users are exploring water markets as one potential tool to move water between uses. Water markets facilitate the voluntary transfer of water between sellers and buyers, on either a temporary (lease) or permanent (sale) basis. To some this has meant water is accessible for crops during drought or for new housing developments. For fish, it may mean more water instream that enhances survival.

And yet, water markets are not quite as simple as other markets (say, the grocery store). There are lots of features of water that make purchasing it different than buying a loaf of bread. Continue reading