ANNOUNCEMENT: Upcoming Solar Leasing Workshops for Agricultural Landowners in the Pacific Northwest

Sheep grazing in a pasture with trees in the backgroundDownload the Solar Leasing guide and register at 

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

Water Markets in Washington State: What if Leasing Part of a Water Right Was Allowed?

By Rajendra Khanal, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah


Top: corn crop under center pivot, with arid slopes in background. Bottom: green irrigated wheat crop

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

ANNOUNCEMENT: NCRC Community Grants Program – Call for Letters of Interest

Header for the Community Grants Program, with description of what the program funds (also in text) The Northwest Climate Resilience Collaborative is accepting applications for funding of climate resilience projects through its Community Grants Program. The Resilience Collaborative, a program of the Climate Impacts Group, seeks to fund justice-focused, environmental and climate projects that advance community-centered resilience priorities. Nonprofits, community organizations and Tribes in Washington, Idaho and Oregon that serve frontline communities are eligible to apply. Letters of Interest for the Community Grants are due February 28, 2023.   Continue reading

Check It Out: Virtual Fencing Can Exclude Cattle from Burned Areas in Large, Sagebrush Steppe Rangelands

By Morgan Lawrence, USDA Northwest Climate Hub

A cow grazes the sagebrush steppe

Sagebrush steppe rangelands play a crucial role in the success of Northwest ranching operations. Photo: Ben Amstutz under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Extensive sagebrush steppe rangelands play a crucial role in the success of Northwest ranching operations, allowing livestock to graze throughout the spring and summer months on fresh forage. However, as wildfire frequency and size increase in sagebrush steppe due to climate change, burned areas of varying sizes within these rangelands will need to be rested as they recover. Ranchers and rangeland managers will need new, cost-effective methods of separating cattle from these sensitive, burned areas on public rangelands while still grazing neighboring unburned areas.

Virtual fencing presents a compelling climate change adaptation option for doing just that. Continue reading

Exploring the Nexus of Solar Energy and Agriculture: How Do We Invest in Climate-Friendly Energy While Ensuring the Future of our Food Supply?

By Addie Candib and Chantel Welch, American Farmland Trust

Series of solar panels over bare ground

By 2050, 90% of solar energy is expected to come from utility-scale projects in rural communities (Ardani et al. 2021). Photo: Camille Seamann/Solutions Project under CC BY 2.0

Given ambitious state and federal goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the pace of solar energy development is accelerating rapidly in the Pacific Northwest, placing significant pressure on the region’s agricultural land and its stewards. According to a US Department of Energy study, by 2050, 90% of solar energy will come from utility-scale projects in rural communities (Ardani et al. 2021). Our team at American Farmland Trust (AFT) recently looked specifically at solar development as a contributor to farmland loss (Hunter et al. 2022). In addition to the nearly 200,000 acres at risk of conversion to urban and low-density residential development, Washington State could lose as many as 86,000 acres to solar development by 2040 (Figure 1).  We estimate that about 80% of that development – or 68,800 acres – will occur on agricultural land. While this may not sound like a lot given Washington’s vast agricultural landscape, it’s equal to or more than the total acreages used by some flagship crops: barley (70,000 acres), hops (43,000 acres), cherries (39,000 acres), or onions (19,000 acres).

 The opportunity to lease land to solar developers may have considerable appeal for a farmland owner given the many challenges that face our region’s producers: unstable commodity markets, rising property values, labor shortages, climate change, and lack of successors, just to name a few. But solar leases also carry significant risk for the landowner and for the land. Here we discuss two approaches AFT is taking to help ensure that the interests and values of agricultural lands and landowners are equitably considered at all levels of decisions around solar development. Continue reading

What do Hurricanes and Soil Carbon Have in Common? The Wisdom of a Multi-Model Ensemble Approach

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

Map of the Caribbean with lines curving from the northern coast of S. America across to a widening swath of western western Cuba and southern Florida

Figure 1. Example of “spaghetti model” predictions of potential hurricane paths. Source: Samantha Kendall, “Hurricane Ian Expected to Impact Florida This Week,” posted on September 22, 2022, (

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” So goes an apparently ancient Danish aphorism also mistakenly credited to a wide range of humorists, from Yogi Berra to Mark Twain – and even to a Nobel Laureate, Niels Bohr. Whatever its origins, it is undeniably true. I will discuss an approach for hedging our bets against an uncertain future. I will start with an example where this is already being done, and then we can tackle soil carbon. Continue reading

Check it out: Another La Niña? What Does That Say About Climate Change?

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

The weather we experience any given year is the product of a complex combination of short-term variations (think cold fronts), mid-term cycles (think of El Niño and La Niña years as an important example affecting our region), and long-term trends (think of warming due to climate change). This complexity can lead to years that do not fit either with what’s happened historically, or with what climate change science leads us to expect. Our recent experience with snow in April is an example of such “weirdness.” So I found this news article from the University of Washington really interesting. Check it out. The article discusses a study that suggests that Map of the PAcific Ocean showing cooler (blue) and warmer (red) temperaturesclimate change is, in the short term, favoring La Niña years. This is counter to the expected trend towards more frequent El Niño years as the world warms. Bottom line, there are aspects of the changes in sea temperatures that we are seeing that are not well captured in our current climate change models, which in the short term load the dice for La Niña, though in the long term we expect a switch to El Niño. And this is a great window into how the use of models in science works – weirdness is an important step in identifying what questions we still need answers to, and attracting curious minds to try to answer them.


Here’s the study the article discusses. It has a good plain language summary:

Wills, R.C., Dong, Y., Proistosecu, C., Armour, K.C. and Battisti, D.S., 2022. Systematic climate model biases in the large‐scale patterns of recent sea‐surface temperature and sea‐level pressure change. Geophysical Research Letters, p.e2022GL100011.

To find out more about El Nino and La Nina (also called El Nino Southern Oscillation or ENSO), check out the website on ENSO and their ENSO Blog.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Water Year Impacts Survey

Evening sky, with a center pivot over an agricultural field in the foregroundHappy 2023 Water Year! Now that the wet and dry swings of water year 2022 are complete, we want to hear from you! How was the Pacific Northwest Impacted?

We encourage you to fill out the Water Year Impact Survey. The goal of this survey is to gather information about impacts and response actions that were implemented during the 2022 water year (October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022) due to either abnormally dry or abnormally wet conditions.

The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and your responses are vital for informing both the Water Year meeting and PNW Water Year Impacts Assessment.

We greatly appreciate your contributions!

If you are interested in learning more about the Water Year and the results from this survey, we encourage you to register for this year’s virtual Water Year meeting on October 25th and 26th.
Full Survey Link:

Deficit Irrigation Can Improve Fruit Quality for Hard Cider Producers

By Sarah Davis, Intern at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

Apple trees with fruit on the branches, green foliage

Cider apples in mid August under RDI treatment. Photo: Sarah Davis.

Growing up, I remember my grandfather bringing my family fresh Honeycrisp apples from his orchard in the Chelan area, describing the qualities that made them special. As an orchardist, my grandfather always strived to have delicious, high-quality produce coming from his orchards. My grandfather is not alone in this quest; growers across the state are looking for ways to enhance the quality of their crops. As climate change progresses and temperatures rise, fruit quality could be affected: climate change has been linked to delayed fruit ripening, low fruit quality, low fruit yield, sunburn, and more.  Regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) is one possible way to combat some of these impacts. Continue reading

Water Markets: The Complexity of Trading Private Rights to a Public Good

By Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Photo of legal document

Washington State 1917 Water Code declaring state waters as a public resource to be used by residents through water right acquisition.
Source: Washington State Legislature.

WSU researchers are examining water markets and barriers to their adoption as a potential strategy to adapt to climate changes. Those implementing water markets must navigate legal and administrative complexities, a big one being the need to treat water resources as both a public resource and a private property. The State of Washington holds water as a natural resource in trust for its residents, the public. Individuals or entities can then use water by securing a water right, or the right to divert a specified amount of water at a particular site and for a defined use (for example, municipal, irrigation, flows for fish, industrial). A water right is authorization to use water in a prescribed manner, not to own the water itself.

These complexities understandably lead to complicated and conflicting views about how water should and should not be transferred through water markets. Indeed, when irrigators in the Okanogan, Methow, Walla Walla and Yakima river basins in Washington State were asked two questions (via the 2021 Water Management Survey) to gauge how they thought about the balance between water rights as private property and water as a public natural resource, responses were split, and in some cases even contradictory. Continue reading