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.
by Doug Finkelnburg
In November I participated in a truly innovative summit titled, “Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate – Our Water, Our Land, Our Health, Our Future” which brought together a diverse coalition of public and private stakeholders to discuss economic resiliency challenged by our changing climate. This first-of-its kind, for Idaho, summit occurred simultaneously in Boise, Moscow, Ashton and Pocatello, ID with keynote speakers in Boise streamed to the remote locations. Keynote presentations were followed by facilitated workshops at each viewing site. The goals of this conference were to share what efforts were underway across multiple sectors of Idaho’s economy to address climate change, explore economic opportunities and efficiencies, build new collaborations and provide resources for future projects at all scales. Continue reading
by Sonia A. Hall
Snow on Stevens Pass in Washington State the wet year following the 2015 snow drought. Photo: Flickr user Panchenks under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Check out Meghan Dalton’s (Oregon Climate Change Research Institute) discussion of a published article about whether the 2015 “snow drought” is a harbinger of future climate changes. Read Meghan’s article in the Climate CIRCulator.
By Karen Hill
Figure 1. Wheat residue on field near Ritzville, Washington, which is part of the drier grain-fallow cropping system. (Photo credit: Darrell Kilgore)
The production of crop residue varies dramatically across the Inland Pacific Northwest, with estimated residue production for winter wheat ranging from roughly 0.9 ton/acre in the drier grain-fallow cropping system (Figure 1) to 8.5 ton/acre in the wetter annual crop system, which has enough precipitation to support cropping every year. Crop residues are often seen as simply something to “manage” so that they don’t impede future plantings or as a byproduct that can be sold to help improve the bottom line. However, while editing chapters for the recently released publication Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I was introduced to another way to think about these residues in the chapter in that publication titled “Crop Residue Management.” Continue reading
By: Sonia A. Hall
Both John Aeschliman (left) and Douglas Poole (right) practice no-till, though they farm with very different precipitation regimes. Photo: Alex Garland.
Extension has traditionally involved getting results from researchers to decision-makers in agriculture. Partly because I work on climate change and agriculture, and partly because of the approach my team and the researchers we work with take, extension is, for us, a two-way street. In this article I want to highlight the “other” side of that street: how innovations that producers test out in real life complement research and supports future preparedness.
In preparation for a new project I reviewed case studies and profiles others I work with published as part of the Regional Approaches to Climate Change – Pacific Northwest Agriculture (REACCH-PNA) project, which focused on dryland cereal production in a changing climate. These case studies tell the stories of producers who are implementing practices that break some mold, and that is leading to both interesting results and to benefits that will help them be prepared for future climates. Continue reading