By Georgine Yorgey
Topsoil has often been referred to as the “thin skin” of our planet, essential for producing the food that feeds us. Because it’s not easy to create new topsoil, conserving the soil that we have is essential for maintaining our region’s agricultural productivity. Reducing tillage, and leaving residue on the soil surface, is a proven way to reduce erosion. As residues break down, they increase the concentration of soil organic matter at the surface of the soil and help to form soil aggregates—a composite of soil particles that clump or bind together, giving soil its structure. Soil that is aggregated in larger particles is less prone to being eroded by the wind. And soils with more organic matter also benefit the climate, by storing more carbon.
Planting the wheat cover crop in strips makes planting corn easier, as the planter does not encounter roots and leaves in the planting strip. Photo: Darrell Kilgore
By Sonia A. Hall
Water is a precious resource in the Columbia River Basin, and climate change could lead to changes in factors that affect how to most efficiently allocate water to the many uses and values in the region, a challenge even now. This future is not bleak, however. A research team led by Jon Yoder at Washington State University has been funded to develop new technologies to help decision-makers improve how they use water to meet the diverse needs of farms, people, fish and the rivers themselves. Check out this article on their research plans into smart market technology, seasonal forecasting, and automated monitoring of agricultural (and other) water use.
Seasonal forecasting of water availability and crop productivity can inform the decisions of potential water market participants. Photo: Flickr user Pictoscribe under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally
Wildfires continue to burn across the region. Photo: Hallie Decime under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
The National Integrated Drought Information Systems, via Drought.gov, working with a team of Northwest stakeholders, have just put together and released a new Drought Status Update that highlights current drought conditions that are affecting the Northwest. Continue reading
By Chris Schnepf
Monitoring for blister rust cankers is important for managing young white pine. Photo: C. Schnepf.
One of the first ways we expect climate change to impact forests is with the behavior and effects of forest insects and diseases. To assess that, it is important to monitor forests for evidence of insects and diseases that kill trees. Continue reading
By Doug Finkelnburg
Let’s address the title’s second question. Wheat makes up 18% of calories consumed by humans on this earth. Historically, changes to the supply and distribution of wheat due to environmental or political factors creates economic ripple effects felt globally. A crop failure, embargo, or tariff spat in the far corners of the earth affects cash bids for wheat at Portland or Chicago. Such is the fate of internationally traded commodities and the fate of the single largest cash crop for dryland farmers in the Pacific Northwest. Wheat is integral to our local agricultural economy, is in increasing demand globally and major wheat production areas around the world could become more or less suitable for growing wheat as the climate changes.
Pacific Northwest wheat production is expected to benefit from a changing climate. Photo: Jeff Few under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally
Multiple climate projections for the Pacific Northwest suggest that our region’s agriculture will be impacted as our climate continues to change. Are farmers preparing for these changes? And if not, why not? These are the questions I hoped to answer as part of my research.
Wheat and canola crops planted at the Washington State University’s Cook Agronomy Farm near Pullman, WA. Photo: Gabrielle Roesch-McNally.
By Sonia A. Hall
Irrigated pasture in Blaine County, Idaho. Water demand for irrigation is expected to start earlier in the season as the climate changes. Photo: Mark Goebel under CC BY 2.0.
Turns out that understanding how changes in climate are affecting the demand for water for irrigation in the Columbia River Basin is really important for our overall understanding of how water use and management may need to change in the future. Check out this Washington State University newsletter article on a recent study into this topic, led by AgClimate’s sometime-contributor Kirti Rajagopalan.
Rajagopalan, K., Chinnayakanahalli, K.J., Stockle, C.O., Nelson, R.L., Kruger, C.E., Brady, M.P., Malek, K., Dinesh, S.T., Barber, M.E., Hamlet, A.F. and Yorgey, G.G., 2018. Impacts of Near‐Term Climate Change on Irrigation Demands and Crop Yields in the Columbia River Basin. Water Resources Research, 54(3), pp.2152-2182. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/2017WR020954
By Sonia A. Hall
Landscapes west and east of the 100th meridian. Left: Rangeland country in Idaho. Photo: Sonia A. Hall. Right: Soybean crops in Iowa. Photo: Parshotam Lal Tandon, under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
The contrast between the arid west—rangelands, wheat, conifer forests, irrigated agriculture—and the Midwest’s Great Plains—corn, soybean, prairies—is well known. There is a somewhat abrupt line separating arid from humid, close to the 100th meridian. That line is now shifting, as climate change affects temperatures, precipitation, and wind patterns that control that arid-to-humid line. Take a look at a recent study from Columbia University on how the line is shifting eastward from the 100th meridian. And you might want to start with the blog article “The 100th Meridian, Where the Great Plains Begin, May Be Shifting.”
Seager, R., N. Lis, J. Feldman, M. Ting, A.P. Williams, J. Nakamura, H. Liu, and N. Henderson, 2018: Whither the 100th Meridian? The Once and Future Physical and Human Geography of America’s Arid–Humid Divide. Part I: The Story So Far. Earth Interact., 22, 1–22, https://doi.org/10.1175/EI-D-17-0011.1
Seager, R., J. Feldman, N. Lis, M. Ting, A.P. Williams, J. Nakamura, H. Liu, and N. Henderson, 2018: Whither the 100th Meridian? The Once and Future Physical and Human Geography of America’s Arid–Humid Divide. Part II: The Meridian Moves East. Earth Interact., 22, 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1175/EI-D-17-0012.1
By Karen Hills
In non-irrigated areas that are too dry to support annual cropping, fallow (the practice of leaving land unplanted) preserves soil moisture for future crops. However, annual fallow combined with conventional tillage has resulted in a net decrease in soil carbon over time in our region, with negative impacts to soil health across large areas. And even when tillage is eliminated, it is very difficult to maintain soil carbon over time in a wheat-fallow system. For this reason, the impact of climate change on the frequency of fallow in crop rotations has important future implications both for soil health and for opportunities for carbon sequestration.
Two papers published last year by Kaur et al. and Karimi et al. use modeling to project the impacts of climate change on dryland cropping systems. Continue reading
By Chris Schnepf
Many countries enthusiastically plant trees that are not native to their shores. One of the best examples is New Zealand, which has extensive plantations of genetically improved Pinus radiata, a species native to northern California and known here as Monterey pine. If you noticed pine forests that humans, elves, and orcs scurried through in the Lord of the Rings movies (filmed in New Zealand), you were likely looking at planted, non-native trees. Continue reading