Category Archives: Sustainable Practices

How will Climate Change Affect the Use of Fallow in Cropping Systems in Our Region?

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

Tree Planting and Provenance Testing in Response to Climate Change

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

Calculating Climate Benefits for Climate Smart Farms

By Georgine Yorgey

Farmer and long-time CSANR advisory committee member, Dale Gies. Photo: Sylvia Kantor.

What are the climate impacts of a given farm practice?  While we know lots of strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on farms, quantifying that impact can be difficult.  However, there is at least one farm in our region – one that uses some pretty neat practices – for which scientists have attempted to answer that question.  And the farmer just happens to be a long-time member of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources’ advisory committee, Dale Gies. Continue reading

Turning Urban Wood Waste into Biochar

By Karen Hills

Biochar as a soil amendment has been the subject of much attention in recent years because of its ability to sequester carbon and to improve aggregation, water holding capacity, and organic matter content of soil amended with it (Lehmann, 2007; Marris, 2006). A recent post discussed what’s needed to economically produce forest to farm biochar. In contrast, researchers at Washington State University are investigating what we could call waste to farm biochar. Waste to farm biochar, if deployed on a larger scale, could offer a two-part benefit – removal of wood from the municipal solid waste stream and creation of a valuable product from this wood. In recent work, researchers are looking at two possible wastes that could be made into biochar: wood-based fractions of municipal solid waste and the large woody material remaining after compost production—referred to as “compost overs.”

Figure 1: Images of the woody biomass sources used to create biochar for this project, including compost overs and wood-based products from municipal solid waste. (source: WTFT 2015-2017 report; photo credit: M. Ayiania)

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OneNOAA CSSR series

Beginning Thursday, July 12 at 9:00 am Pacific Standard Time – and occurring weekly at that time through Tuesday, August 28 – the OneNOAA seminar series will be hosting an 8-part suite of talks on different aspects of the National Climate Assessment 4 Volume I – the Climate Science Special Report.  This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the latest climate science from some of the nation’s most eminent scientists!

  • Thurs, July 12: Climate Science: What’s New? – Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech University)
  • Thurs, July 19: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change from the CSSR – U.S. Perspective – Tom Knutson (NOAA-GFDL)
  • Thurs, July 26: Droughts, Floods, and Wildfire – Michael Wehner (DOE-LBNL)
  • Thurs, Aug 2: Climate Potential Surprises – Compound Extremes and Tipping Elements – Radley Horton (Columbia University / Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory)
  • Thurs, Aug 9: Climate Long-Term Climate Mitigation Perspectives and the 2°C Objective – Ben DeAngelo (NOAA)
  • Thurs, Aug 16: The Causes and Consequences of a Rapidly Changing Arctic – Patrick Taylor (NASA-Langley Research Center)
  • Thurs, Aug 23: Climate Tidings of the Tides – Billy Sweet (NOAA)
  • Tues, Aug 28: The Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment: An Overview of Volume 1 – Don Wuebbles (University of Illinois)

Forest to Farm Biochar – What will it take?

By Laurie Houston

Biochar made from woody biomass. Photo: Oregon Department of Forestry under CC BY 2.0.

My colleagues kicked off a discussion on biochar with their recent articles. Biochar can potentially be a win for soil health, for carbon sequestration in soils, and for fire risk reduction in forests. Kristin Trippe talked about the benefits of biochar as soil amendments in agricultural soils, and a tool to help producers choose biochar products. Chris Schnepf and Darrell McAvoy discussed the benefits and challenges of using forestry slash to produce biochar, and how mobile kilns can facilitate that. So, if biochar has all these benefits why aren’t all farmers spreading biochar on their fields? And why isn’t all the biomass from thinning being processed into biochar? Continue reading

Biochar and Forestry

By Chris Schnepf, University of Idaho, and

Darren McAvoy, Utah State University

Biochar is being used in a variety of agricultural and home and garden applications. Photo: C. Schnepf.

Biochar has many possible agricultural benefits. Given the large role that fire plays in western forests, biochar has likely also already played a significant role in Northwest forests, as evidenced by the charcoal commonly found on top of or buried in our forest soils. Biochar shows promise in providing additional benefits in restoring heavily disturbed forest sites, such as forest roads, skid trails, and landings. For more information, see a chapter in a recent biochar book detailing the current state of North American forest biochar research.

Most of the enthusiasm around biochar in the forestry community, however, is related to using forest management residues to create biochar and useable fuels, such as bio-oil and syngas. Continue reading

Biochar: what can it do for your soil?

By Kristin Trippe, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit

Farmers across the globe are grappling with the challenges of a changing climate. In the Pacific Northwest, loss of snow pack has diminished the availability of water resources, causing increased drought stress (see this article, for example). Our program is focused on biochar, a rather non-descript product that can help farmers both sequester carbon and prolong the availability of soil moisture in their agricultural soils to address drought stress.

Biological Science Technicians Sarah Light (left) and Stephanie Chiu (right) collect soil cores from soil amended with biochar to determine if biochar can help prevent drought. Photo: Claire Phillips, USDA ARS FSCRU.

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My Mother’s Forestland

By Renée E. D’Aoust

The author’s parents, Brian and Susan D’Aoust. Photo: Renée E. D’Aoust.

My mom called our forestland in northern Idaho a “spot of paradise.” Mom was the first to point out a grand fir that might fall, to see a moose on the pasture, and to notice Western larch needles changing color. She passed away eight years ago, and we try to honor her by caring for our forestland. Since my brother and I live far away, all of the work falls on Dad.

In my family, we’ve talked about climate change for over thirty years. The issues that arise from climate change—extreme weather events, migration due to drought, conflict caused by land issues, and more—will force all of us to recognize climate change as the most defining issue of our epoch. It will be the issue that unites us—or destroys us. If the latter, one spot of paradise that brings one family joy won’t matter. Or will it?

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Crop Diversity is a Nice Thing if You Can Get It and You Can Get It if You Try

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Diversity is a good thing, right?

Diversity is incredibly important for a productive and resilient agrifood system. Diversity in the form of extended crop rotations can lead to greater “productivity, profitability and environmental health,” and can reduce weed, insect, and disease pressure, helping farmers cut the costs of their inputs. Diversifying the crop rotation provides financial as well as broader environmental benefits that can be experienced at the field (e.g., reduced erosion) and landscape scale (e.g., reduced water quality impairment). Greater crop diversity will also help mitigate risks associated with the impacts of global climate change, including more extreme and variable weather events, and sustained temperature and precipitation changes that will impact agricultural production. Sadly, much of the agricultural production in the U.S, even parts of the Northwest, is lacking in diversity.

Diversity is a key ingredient in building a more resilient agroecosystem, so why are so few farmers implementing diverse crop rotations?

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