By Doug Finkelnburg, University of Idaho Extension
Cattle graze swathed cover-crops in annually cropped field in North Idaho, an example of crop and livestock practices that will be supported by the Climate Smart Commodities for Idaho grant. Photo: Doug Finkelnburg.
The largest grant ever awarded in the history of the University of Idaho will explore how Idaho’s agriculture can address climate change. Over the next five years, $55 million will be spent to research and implement greenhouse gas (GHG) reducing practices in Idaho’s farming and ranching systems. The goal of this effort is to reduce the emission of up to 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year in Idaho alone, roughly equivalent to preventing the consumption of 7 million gallons of gasoline (I calculated this with the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator—a pretty neat tool). This is one of 70 projects USDA selected to receive $2.8 billion to better characterize GHG emissions related to agricultural production and develop mitigation strategies.
What sets this effort apart from previous climate-change and agriculture focused grants, other than the sheer scale of the effort, is its focus on implementation first and research second. Continue reading
Morgan Lawrence, USDA Northwest Climate Hub
Cover crops grow between rows of hazelnut trees on Ioka Farms in the Willamette Valley. Photo: Robert Hathorne, NRCS Oregon.
You may know hazelnuts (also called filberts) for their starring role in everyone’s favorite hazelnut-chocolate spread. Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed a delicious hazelnut latte while eating a hazelnut-filled truffle. But did you know that Oregon produces 99% of U.S. hazelnuts, and Washington produces the other 1%? Under the right conditions, hazelnuts are a climate-resilient crop that can be used for food products, cooking oils, livestock feed, and even bioenergy. With the development of pathogen-resistant cultivars, the hazelnut market in Oregon and Washington has the potential to expand. However, expansion will require some climate-smart management.
Because reliable hazelnut crops can only be produced under moderate climatic conditions, they will need some help in adapting to the challenges of climate change. Hazelnut trees do not grow well under extremely hot or cold temperatures, high winds, or with pathogens like eastern filbert blight. However, they are drought-resistant trees, and they can be grown in soils not suitable for a lot of other crops, like hilly or sloping soils. Hazelnut trees also provide many benefits, including storing carbon, reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and providing wildlife habitat. There are methods to ensure the resilience and growth of the hazelnut industry under climate change in our region. For example, producers can choose a planting site with soils that have good drainage and are not south-facing. To learn more about this delicious Northwest crop and considerations for keeping it resilient, check out this article I wrote for the Northwest Climate Hub.
By Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, and Clark Seavert, Oregon State University
Climate change could bring changes in practices for small grain dryland systems. Photo: Erin Brooks
For the inland Pacific Northwest, climate change predictions including wetter springs and drier, hotter summers leads to production system uncertainties and risks for dryland, small grain farmers. Annual precipitation is projected to increase by about 5-15% by 2050 except during the summer months where precipitation is projected to decrease, resulting in decreased soil moisture during the late summer months. We have seen conditions similar to these projections in recent years, such as the droughts in 2015 and 2021 and a wet spring in 2019 that prevented planting almost 53,000 acres across Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
These changes are expected to increase reliance on fallow for small grain dryland systems. Fallowing strategies can lead to further declines in organic matter inputs, soil health, and reduced production capacity in the future. Potential alternatives attractive to producers include incorporating winter pea into rotations and planting cover crops coupled with livestock grazing. But will they be profitable? Continue reading
By Janelle Christensen, USDA Northwest Climate Hub
Cattle graze in a small pasture near Wendell, Idaho. Photo: USDA/Kirsten Strough
Grazing lands in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington—from state, tribal and federally managed rangelands and forests to privately owned pasturelands—are an important part of each state. Livestock are a critical part of each state’s economy and contributed about $8.4 billion in sales in 2017. They are also important to the livelihoods of people who live in these states, many of whom come from families who have taken care of these lands for generations.
To understand how climate change is impacting the grazing season, I looked into some of the changes that will affect ranchers’ and managers’ ability to graze sustainably in the future. With warmer temperatures earlier in the year, springtime and grass emergence will happen earlier. Livestock may have reduced access to forage on federally managed grazing lands, where permits are set to open at the same date each year. Temperatures may also affect plant germination. Some plants require a certain number of chilling hours to reproduce and others become less productive in temperatures that exceed their optimal growth temperature. Additionally, changes to precipitation will affect the amount of forage available each year, which could negatively impact herds.
These are among the changes that are happening with climate change in this region. Check out the article I wrote for the Northwest Climate Hub to learn more about the effects of climate change on grazing lands in the Northwest.
By Karen Janowitz, Washington State University Energy Program
The Columbia Plateau boasts important ranchlands and are important to many endangered and threatened species and habitats as well as Tribal cultural resources. Photo: Ferdi Businger.
The passage of Washington State’s Clean Energy Transformation Act in 2019 mandates an electricity supply free of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Large-scale renewable energy projects are one way to achieve this mandate. Solar companies see this as an opportunity and are pursuing projects in the sunniest, least developed part of the state—the Columbia Plateau region. As many of you know, the area boasts some of the most productive farmland and ranchland in the state, as well as many endangered and threatened species and habitats, and Tribal cultural resources.
Concerned about losing these values to large renewable energy developments while acknowledging the need for renewables, the 2019 Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State University Energy Program (WSUEP) to pursue a Least-Conflict Solar Siting project for the Columbia Plateau. The project must be completed by June 30, 2023, and we are in the midst of working with a wide-ranging and diverse set of interests to produce maps that can help us balance the need for renewable energy with protecting Washington State’s productive farmland and ranchland, Tribal rights and resources, and species and habitats. You can assist with the project by reviewing draft maps, which will be available soon. Read on to gain an understanding of this novel and important process. Continue reading
Soil health is a trending topic in agricultural production and environmental resilience to climate change, but what does the latest research tell us and how can we put it into practice for regional agricultural systems?
SoilCon, an annual conference hosted by the Washington State Soil Health Initiative (WaSHI), aims to address these questions and more. Speakers at the conference will explain what metrics are used when assessing soil health, how these may change by production system and region, and explore management practices to support a resilient soil system. The topics will be relevant to agriculture or natural resource professionals, producers, consultants, University faculty and students, and interested members of the public. This free, virtual conference will bring research, extension, and production together to move soil health principles into practice.
SoilCon 2023 will be held February 14th & 15th, with sessions running from 8:00am-12:00pm PST each day. For more information and to register for SoilCon 2023, visit the event site. Attendance is free and open to all. SoilCon is possible with support from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WESARE).
Stay updated with SoilCon through Twitter and Instagram @WSU_SoilHealth.
SoilCon Event & Registration Link: https://pheedloop.com/wasoilcon23/site/home/
By Tyler Harris, Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, Oregon State University
A cayuse oat cover crop interseeded into a brassica field in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Cover crops are just one example of a climate-smart practice that can help growers adapt to unpredictable weather patterns. Photo: Andrew Donaldson, Soil Conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
With climate change, growers in the Pacific Northwest are facing a myriad of new challenges. These include a longer fire season and more frequent fires, warmer and drier summers, and increased drought potential in summer. A question that is becoming more pertinent every day for agronomists, rangeland managers, soil scientists, water quality specialists, and other service providers in agriculture is: How do we help producers adapt to climate change by adopting climate-smart practices? This is something a panel of agricultural professionals considered as part of a recent online climate resilience training hosted by the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network (OrCAN). Continue reading
By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, and AgClimate Lead Editor
2022 has come to a close, and 2023 seems to have revved up and is roaring along. We are still early enough in the year, though, to look back on 2022 and reflect on what you, our readers, found worthy of your time and attention. Here are the three most read 2022 articles, and three still-popular articles from earlier years. It is worth taking a look. I was struck by the breadth of topics and production systems these articles discuss, which is reflective of the variety in the Pacific Northwest that we explicitly try to cover in AgClimate.net. All these articles also have something in common: they discuss science-based resources that can help agricultural and natural resource professionals understand the implications of a changing climate, and explore options to be better prepared for the future. That is what AgClimate.net is about. Enjoy these top reads in 2022! Continue reading
Download the Solar Leasing guide and register at https://farmland.org/PNWSolar
To accompany the recent release of our guidebook, Solar Leasing: A Guide for Agricultural Landowners in the Pacific Northwest, the American Farmland Trust’s PNW team is offering workshops to help agricultural landowners better understand the complexity of solar leases. Continue reading
By Rajendra Khanal, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah
Farmers growing crops such as wheat and corn might be more interested in leasing some – rather than all – of their water to support instream flows in times of water scarcity, which are likely to occur more frequently as the climate changes. Photo: WSDA under CC BY-NC 2.0 (corn) and Rajendra Khanal (wheat).
If you are a Washington agricultural producer who has a water right and wants to lease your water to another user, you are currently allowed to either lease your entire water right and fallow your land (that is, not use any of the water yourself) or not lease and use your full water right for crop production. The option of leasing a part of your water right (partial leasing) does not exist.
Introducing an option for partial leasing could make more farmers willing to participate in water markets, and thus expand markets’ potential as a tool for meeting diverse water needs, especially as climate change increases the likelihood that water supplies won’t be sufficient to meet all demands, all the time. For example, farmers might lease some of their water to support instream flows in times of water scarcity, which are likely to occur more frequently as the climate changes. Although there are a number of challenges that would need to be overcome to make partial leasing a reality (I discuss those later), we started by asking the question of whether the potential benefits of partial leasing are big enough to make it worth bothering to invest the time and money it would take to overcome those challenges. Continue reading