Washington State University professor Bill Pan is well versed in what the future may look like as climate change makes its presence known in the Northwest and, like many in the know, he is using his information to help others gain knowledge and perspective.
Pan is one of 24 scientists with Regional Approaches to Climate Change, a five-year United States Department of Agriculture-funded project combining experts from WSU, the University of Idaho and Oregon State University, with a focus on helping grain and cereal farmers in the tri-state area adapt for and slow the long-term changes.
"The climate model predicts a long-term shift," Pan said. "Models say the amount of precipitation we'll receive will be about the same, but with much of it concentrated over the winter months."
What this will mean for farmers is more frequent spring and summer droughts, necessitating a renewed focus on improving soil, he said.
"We're going to have to rely on our good soils to keep the water from the winter months," Pan said.
Pan said there are several ways for farmers to improve the soil they have in preparation for changes, including using such strategies as direct seeding, when seed is placed in small, narrow furrows rather than full tillage or no-till seeding, when seed is placed atop undisturbed crop residues.
Pan said farmers can also improve their soil through the use of organic amendments, like cover crops that are seeded after a regular crop is harvested or the addition of animal manure or biosolids, organic matter recycled from sewage.
"Organic matter increases water holding capacities," he said.
Pan said these additions can have short-term benefits, like reducing the need for fertilizers and improving crop yields.
Adaptation to incoming conditions is only half the story.
While making certain their crops will continue to produce for both their own livelihood and food security, farmers also have the tools to slow climate change in their respective regions by utilizing new technology and adjusting their own agricultural habits.
Pan said two of the most prevalent greenhouse gasses are produced through commercial agriculture.
Nitrous oxide is a byproduct of the average fertilizer used on crops, while carbon dioxide is produced through the use of fossil fuels, necessary to apply those fertilizers.
Pan doesn't advocate for the discontinuance of crop fertilization, but, he said, identifying the places within farmland where it would be most useful and where little is needed can help prevent over application and save farmers money on the chemicals while releasing less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
Inputting this information into a computer-controlled applicator takes the guesswork out of application, according to REACCH.
In order to further reduce nitrous oxide, REACCH recommends farmers invest in GPS equipment on tractors to avoid overlapping applications, which reduces fertilizer applied and fossil fuels burned.
According to REACCH, modified crop rotations can help combat stubborn weeds that mimic the growth cycle of grain and cereal crops and reduce the use of fertilizers while producing an income for farmers. An oil seed crop, canola, unlike most wheat crops, can be processed regionally rather than overseas, increasing local jobs, raising the production of biofuels and cooking oils and bringing in money. Legumes like garbanzo beans, lentils and peas require less fertilizers as they produce their own nitrogen, thereby reducing the need for fertilizations.
Shanon Quinn can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.