The Climate Commitment Act is Coming. How Will it Impact Washington Agriculture?

Dani Gelardi, Washington State Department of Agriculture

A new mandate

WEED-IT infrared spray equipment being used as a demostration in stubble that has not been tilled in Douglas County.

Agriculture accounts for an estimated 6.7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. Could the Climate Commitment Act pose opportunities to help reduce or offset those emissions? Photo: Leslie Michel.

On January 1st, 2023, major portions of the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) will launch in Washington State. This ambitious law is part of Washington’s plan to eliminate or offset all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates that agriculture accounts for 6.7% of the total emissions in Washington. Despite this sizable GHG contribution, agriculture is exempt from CCA mandates, due to existing laws that already regulate this sector. While it remains uncertain how regulations facing the food manufacturing sector may eventually impact agricultural producers, the CCA will not cap emissions from the production of unprocessed livestock and crops. Does this mean these activities will be entirely unaffected? 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

Challenges with Renewable Energy and How Biofuels Can Help

By Janelle Christensen, MESM, ORISE Science Communication fellow for the USDA Northwest Climate Hub

Wind turbines over a grassland with livestock

Renewable energy like wind power could help to reduce some of the biggest impacts from climate change. Photo: NRCS Montana.

In the face of climate change, much of the world looks to renewable energy. It offers the promise of preventing some of the worst impacts from climate change while allowing us to continue to live similar to how we do currently. Although we need to change how we live in addition to using renewables, without them, we would need to completely revert to pre-industrial times. However, I can guarantee that as I write this on my laptop in my air-conditioned house at my remote job that that is out of the question. With a power grid that runs off clean energy, the changes and reductions we make in our day-to-day lives have a larger impact. If we choose public transportation over driving, it makes a bigger difference if that train runs off a renewable energy powered grid. If we change to more efficient, long-lasting light bulbs and we use solar to power those bulbs, we are wasting less and not emitting carbon dioxide to power our house. The combination of action and renewables is powerful, but switching to 100% renewable energy has some challenges. 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 AgClimate.net 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.

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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 (https://www.thegeektwins.com/2019/10/every-star-trek-opening-theme-song.html)

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

Cleaning Stormwater with Sequestered Carbon

By Chelsea Mitchell, PhD candidate, Washington State University, Washington Stormwater Center*

 

Runoff entering a bioretention system via a curb cut

Figure 1. Bioretention systems are designed to drain and filter stormwater runoff. Credit Carly Thompson, WSU Puyallup.

Stormwater runoff has become one of the greatest environmental challenges we face in western Washington, a region with heavy rainfall and widespread urbanization. In parts of the landscape dominated by impervious surfaces, such as roads, buildings, and parking lots, rainfall is not able to infiltrate the ground (Figure 1). Instead, the resulting runoff picks up pollutants, causes flooding and changes our waterways. These issues are expected to become more severe with population growth and climate change.

There is a bright spot on the horizon, though. A charcoal-like product known as biochar has potential to address these issues when used in stormwater management. Biochar is formed when biomass is heated under low or no oxygen conditions in a process called pyrolysis. By limiting the oxygen level, you limit combustion and the release of carbon dioxide during biochar production. The resulting material has a stable, carbon-rich structure which resists being degraded for hundreds to thousands of years, keeping the carbon locked in place. Continue reading