Category Archives: Sustainable Practices

Check it out: The Black Box of Soil Organic Matter and Soil Health

By Sonia A. Hall

Two men bent over a shovelful of soil in a harvested wheat field.

The connection between soil health and carbon sequestration are complex, but advances in soil biology are teasing them out. Photo: Ron Nichols/USDA NRCS under CC BY 2.0.

A number of recent AgClimate.net articles focused on soil health (see for example this article on a soil health NRCS resource  and one on decomposition of wheat residues research). These articles commented on why soil health is important from a climate change perspective: more carbon-rich organic matter in the soil contributes to soil health, and also means less carbon as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So the potential exists for a win-win situation. As most things in life and agriculture, the connections between improved soil health and increased carbon sequestration are not as simple as they sound. Check out Andy McGuire’s elegant blog article describing why advances in soil biology—a foundational component of soil health—are important. He explains that it is not because they “change everything,” but because they help clarify why some things work and some don’t as much, and explain how complex that connection between soil health and carbon sequestration in soils appears to be. And though we may not want to hear it, we need this understanding to determine where the win-win practices that both increase soil health and sequester more carbon might realistically be. So take a few minutes to read McGuire’s article—it’s well worth the time!

What is Ocean Acidification? Should We Worry About It?

By Laurie Houston

A pile of oysters.

Oysters, an important industry in the Pacific Northwest, is vulnerable to ocean acidification. Photo: Steve Freeman under CC BY 2.0

I recently enlisted colleagues to write a blog article about the impact carbon dioxide emissions have on the Pacific Northwest oyster aquaculture industry. While reviewing the blog I realized that ocean acidification is probably a little-understood feature for many of us.  Therefore, I went in search of articles and videos that explain the science of ocean acidification, and its impact on ecosystems and economies. Continue reading

Check it out: New Resource for Healthy Soils and Climate Resilience

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Hand holding a clod of soil full of roots and worms

Healthy soils can build greater resilience and reduce risks in the face of more extreme and variable weather. Photo: Aaron Roth/NRCS under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Climate change is expected to increase the vulnerability of our agriculture and natural resource systems. In the face of more extreme and variable weather, there are a suite of soil health management practices that land managers can adopt to build greater resilience and to reduce risks in their agricultural operations (examples of strategies in Figure 1).

Through engagement with land managers and those who work with them, including Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), and Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) professionals, it became clear that many of them were interested in soil health and its linkages with climate change adaptation and mitigation. As a result, Oregon NRCS and the USDA Northwest Climate Hub partnered to develop a resource to aid advisors and land managers in discussing soil health and climate resilience together. Continue reading

What Does Winter Wheat Decomposition Have to Do with Climate?

Managing crop residue is essential to reduced and no-till farming systems. These farming systems store more carbon than conventional farming systems, thereby mitigating climate change, enhancing soil health, and reducing soil erosion. In work described in a recent project report, Arron Carter and colleagues have been working to make it easier for growers with diverse needs across the Pacific Northwest to manage wheat residues. While the work is still in progress, it is an illustration of the kind of creative, applied work that is needed to make reduced-tillage systems easier to manage, and more widely adopted across the region.

Wheat growing in a field, with residues remaining from last year's harvest between the rows.

Wheat residue in a field in early July near Bickleton, WA. This area is part of the drier winter wheat-fallow area, where slower decomposing residues are preferred. Photo: Hilary Davis.

Growers in different parts of the dryland Pacific Northwest are seeking different residue characteristics. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Check it out: New Publication – Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Sunset over a flooded agricultural landscape.

Farms and ranches are expected to face challenges as climate change leads to more extreme and variable weather. Photo: Flickr user Brent M. under CC BY 2.0.

USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) recently published a new resource for land managers and those who advise them titled, “Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches.” This resource outlines some of the challenges that farmers and ranchers will face as climate change leads to more extreme and variable weather. While the resource is national in scope, there is a great table that briefly explores the observed and expected changes in weather across seven U.S. regions, including the Northwest (Table 1). Continue reading

Tools for Reducing the Increasing Forest Fire Risks

By Chris Schnepf

Rubble of a burned house, surrounded by scorched trees

Different factors can contribute to homes burning in catastrophic fires, including climate change and where people choose to build. Photo: C. Schnepf.

It was impossible to watch all the media coverage of the California fires last year, with many homes and forests burning, and not be moved. When large destructive fires like this hit, people have a natural desire to put some meaning to it. A variety of voices spoke of the changes in climate as being the culprit. Some pointed to fuel build-ups that were heavier than those forests had historically. Others pointed to people moving into parts of the landscape that were very fire prone, and suggested it was only a matter time before homes burned in forest fires. As with so many things, all these explanations for the impact of the fires contain some truth. Continue reading

Shared Data is a Key Part of Integrated Floodplain Management in the Puyallup Watershed

By Jordan Jobe, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

In the Puget Sound Region, it’s clear that climate change impacts will involve changes in precipitation that will impact agriculture, especially agriculture in floodplain areas (Mauger et al. 2015). However, it’s not yet known how precipitation pattern changes will combine with changes in stormwater run-off and sea-level rise… and how these changes might differ between different watersheds. Flood risk reduction folks want this information so that they know how to properly size new culverts. Fish folks want this information to place and design salmon habitat restoration projects.

A drainage ditch very full with brown, near-stagnant water.

Nancy’s Ditch, a key agricultural ditch in the Puyallup Watershed’s Clear Creek area, is consistently slow-flowing and full of water. Photo: J. Jobe.

Continue reading

Flexibility is Key to Northwest Cattle Production’s Future Success

By Laurie Houston

The impact of climate change on cattle producers in the Northwest is not expected to be as extreme as other regions of the United States.  According to a recent study led by Shannon Neibergs and published in Climatic Change, Northwest producers have a comparative advantage because droughts will be less severe in the Northwest and they have access to feed via extensive irrigation systems than can mitigate the effects of drought. That’s compared to the rest of the United States, though. But what impacts can livestock producers expect here? Can they continue business as usual? Probably not, but there are clear options moving forward, conclude Neibergs and colleagues. Continue reading