What will climate change look like on Pacific Northwest rangelands, which cover a huge area of our region? It will undoubtedly have complex impacts on the physical environment, environmental stressors, socio-economic factors, and the animals, plants, and other rangeland organisms. Recently, I took a look at the literature to see what the state of the science is relating to rangelands’ vulnerability to climate change. While there are a number of relevant studies that I mention below, I focus in this article on one of the few quantitative analyses, led by Matt Reeves, that updates Reeves’ previous work that was also discussed on agclimate.net.
Supplemental water helps encourage more distributed grazing across rangelands near Ellensburg, WA. Photo: CAHNRS Communications
Are more efficient irrigation systems good for farmers and the rest of society? The answer depends on who you ask. Photo: Kay Ledbetter/Texas A&M AgriLife Research under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Are more efficient irrigation systems good for farmers and the rest of society? This is a question that may receive a straight “yes” from many of our readers. However, agro-hydrologists and others know that there’s more to the discussion. Continue reading →
A number of our articles this year discussed using biochar in agriculture and in forestry. These earlier articles did not delve into the methods to apply biochar on large tracts of forests. You’d expect this to be a much more challenging task than spreading biochar on croplands. Researchers and technology developers are tackling this particular issue, developing a specialized forest biochar spreader. Take a few minutes to check out their Science Spotlights article and their video. Among the details they discuss in the video is a point Chris Schnepf and Darren McAvoy made in their AgClimate article: biochar can use—and store the carbon that is in—those “leftovers” that otherwise get burned, releasing that carbon into the atmosphere.
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
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.
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 →
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.
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 →
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 →