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
Curious about what it takes to run a ranch but unsure where to start? Our five day courses are for forward-thinking folks who are interested becoming farmers or ranchers. You will learn new skills and discover a holistic approach to farming, life, and land management. Continue reading
by Sonia A. Hall
Interested in better understanding climate change impacts in the Pacific Northwest? Our colleagues at CIRC (Climate Impacts Research Consortium) have recently released a report on their first seven years of research. Check out Nathan Gilles’s article on this report, that walks you through and highlights the key findings. Read Nathan’s article in the Climate CIRCulator.
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
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.
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?
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?
By Georgine Yorgey and Karen Hills,
Swathed cover crop that will be fed to cattle in the field, Nez Perce, ID. By Darrell Kilgore
Across the dryland areas of the inland Pacific Northwest, soil erosion and the use of near monocultures of wheat have long been serious sustainability challenges, ones that we have been working on for decades, including over the last seven years through regional collaborations. Reducing or eliminating tillage has been one important strategy for reducing erosion across the region in recent decades. Improving diversity by including crops such as canola, peas, chickpea and quinoa in rotations is another approach, but across the inland Pacific Northwest from 2007-2014, 53% of dryland crop acreage was used for winter or spring wheat, while an additional 31% was fallow (meaning that to preserve moisture for the following crop, no crop was grown) (Kirby, E. et al., 2017). Continue reading
By: Lauren Parker
Could Northwest growers have an opportunity to cultivate potentially displaced California almonds in the future? Photo: Flickr user Nicholas D under CC BY-NC 2.0.
California cultivates roughly two-thirds of the nation’s fruit and nut crops, including virtually 100% of the US almond supply. Growing demand and high profit-per-acre have driven a doubling in almond acreage in the Golden State since 1995, including a nearly 100,000-acre increase in almond plantations between 2011 and 2015, despite that period coinciding with the most severe drought in the state in a millennium.
by Sonia A. Hall
Wildfires in the American West are expected to respond to the paradoxical drying and greening to come. Photo: Oregon and Washington BLM under CC BY 2.0
Want to understand what carbon fertilization is, and what it could mean for the American West? Take a look at Linnia Hawkins’s (Oregon Climate Change Research Institute) post discussing research on whether the American West could become both drier and greener under climate change, which would affect wildfires. Linnia’s full article is in the Climate CIRCulator.