Welcome!, Insect Biodiversity, People, Events

Welcome to Green Times!

WSU students get hands-on training in the science of organic agriculture at the Organic Teaching Farm near the WSU Pullman campus.
WSU students get hands-on training in the science of organic agriculture at the Organic Teaching Farm near the WSU Pullman campus.

For over 30 years, Washington State University has been at the forefront of sustainable and organic agriculture education, innovation, and research.

WSU scientists provided some of the first direct evidence of the nutritional value of organically grown food and are leaders in calling for changes in the way Americans practice agriculture. WSU Extension educators have developed valuable new methods of weed and pest control that promise to be not only environmentally sustainable but economically viable as well.

WSU was the first university in the United States to offer a science-based, four-year major in organic agriculture. WSU also developed the first online certificate program in organic ag, enabling food-system professionals to retool their skills to meet the demands of a changing and growing market for organic food. And every year, WSU educators conduct dozens of workshops and seminars in sustainable and organic production methods all over the state.

Here’s the really cool part: all of our researchers’ and educators’ work has been done in collaboration with the region’s growers, retailers, and environmentally concerned residents. With you, in other words. And, without your support and suggestions, we could not be where we are today. That’s why we’ve launched this new e-newsletter, Green Times.

The first week of each month, you’ll receive an issue full of useful news, inspiring profiles, and fascinating science. You, in turn, can write us to let us know of upcoming events in your area, people you think we should profile, or exciting innovations in sustainable and organic ag. Just follow the links below to contact the Green Times editor, to leave comments on the Green Times blog and manage your subscription preferences.

I hope you’ll forward this news on to others you know who are as concerned as we are about the future of food and the sustainability of agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.

Go Cougs! –Dan Bernardo, dean, WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Sustainable Farming Studied as One Solution to Climate Change’s Effects on Insect Biodiversity

ResearchCan sustainable agriculture help mitigate the effects of climate change on insect biodiversity? Washington State University entomologist David Crowder and other WSU researchers are conducting a new study to find out. With the support of a $130,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Fellowships Grant Program, the researchers are investigating how regional changes in temperature and precipitation affect Columbia Basin insect communities and whether organic farming practices maintain balance among those communities.

“The Columbia Basin is a perfect living laboratory to investigate the potential effects of climate change on insect biodiversity,” Crowder said.

The Columbia Basin region is unusual for its wide range of climatic conditions yet similar insect communities, including such pests as the Colorado potato beetle and green peach aphid, along with their predators. These predators, called “natural enemies” by entomologists, include the convergent and seven-spotted ladybugs, big-eyed bugs, damsel bugs, parasitoids, nematodes, and fungi.

“In areas with higher temperatures and somewhat higher precipitation, the natural enemy communities tend to be not as balanced,” Crowder said. The imbalance results in higher pest populations. “Our study will look at the effects of this broad climatic variation on these insect populations.”

Entomologist David Crowder
Entomologist David Crowder

Since 2009, Crowder and the research team–including entomology professor William Snyder, graduate student Christine Lynch, and soil science professor John Reganold–have worked with Columbia Basin potato farmers to sample crops and collect native insect specimens. Sampling areas ranged from north of Moses Lake down to the Oregon border, the Columbia Basin region of central Washington where most of the state’s potato production occurs.

Colorado Potato BeetlePotatoes are one of many high-value crops grown in the Columbia Basin, but they require insecticides to control several devastating pests, according to Crowder. With McDonald’s, Sysco, and other major corporate potato buyers now requiring that growers pass audits to justify each insecticide application, use of broad-spectrum insecticides is falling out of favor, and organic potato production is increasing. Crowder hopes more research into biological control will help farmers practice more insect-friendly growing methods and still produce a robust potato crop. Biological control is a pest-management strategy that uses pests’ natural insect enemies to control problematic bugs.

“Biological control by naturally occurring predatory insects and spiders is an ecologically friendly and sustainable approach to pest management,” Crowder said. “However, biological control in potatoes is underutilized, in part because we know very little about how to successfully encourage predators and maximize their impacts on pests.”

A previous study by Crowder, Snyder, and two other colleagues from WSU and University of Georgia at Athens, published in Nature in July 2010, presented an impressive step in describing biological pest control in potatoes. The authors suggested that organic potato fields have significantly more natural insect enemies and, thus, a better balance among pest (Colorado potato beetles and aphids, in this case) and predator communities than conventionally grown potato fields do. In more recent work, the researchers found that planting crops such as alfalfa and peas close to the potato fields can aid natural potato pest management by increasing the populations of natural enemies and decreasing the densities of pests.

Good bug! Lady beetles prey upon insects that damage crops.
Good bug! Lady beetles prey upon insects that damage crops.

What isn’t well understood is how regional climatic variation affects insect communities in the Columbia Basin potato-growing region, or whether sustainable farming can mitigate resulting harm to beneficial bug populations. From north to south, average temperatures can vary from 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, while precipitation ranges from 3 to 15 inches a year. Since Columbia Basin potato growers raise a mix of conventional and organic crops, Crowder and his colleagues can observe how different cropping systems affect insect communities amid the region’s various climates.

Crowder said he wants to see if promoting biodiversity in insect communities helps insects withstand the effects of a warming climate. “The hypothesis is called the ‘insurance effect,” he said. “Greater diversity of species results in ‘niche overlap.’ If one species is knocked out of a particular niche–for instance, the role of Colorado potato beetle predator–another can step in to fill that niche. There really isn’t much research being done on biodiversity and how it can help make communities continue to function in climate change. This field is still fairly new.”

For farmers, results from the study could point to better ways of implementing biological control to help make their systems more adaptable to climate change, Crowder added. One way is by considering the composition of landscapes around potato fields and planting adjacent crops that encourage the movement of natural insect enemies into those fields. Another way is to monitor local temperatures and precipitation and then promote insect biodiversity by knowing which insects do well in those specific climate conditions. Still another way is by adopting soil management practices that promote biodiversity, such as controlling fertilization.

“There is a transition to biocontrol, and this research could help farmers make that transition more easily,” he said.

by Nella Letizia
Photos courtesy of David Crowder


John Reganold, Washington State University Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology
John Reganold, Washington State University Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology

Experts to Guide Scientific Analysis on Food and Ag Policy Issues

John Reganold, Washington State University Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology, is one of nine experts invited to provide advice on research and analysis needed to better understand food and agriculture systems in order to help develop effective policy solutions. Together, these experts are the Research Committee for AGree, whose mission is to transform food and agriculture policy to address global challenges, including feeding an ever-increasing population, enhancing environmental sustainability, and ensuring that farmers and rural communities have a bright future.

Read more about AGree on the Green Times blog »

Happy Birthday, Cultivating Success!

Rick and Lora Lee Misterly
Rick and Lora Lee Misterly

There’s never been a greater need for interest in sustainable farming, according to Marcy Ostrom, Small Farms Program director at the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Wenatchee. Over the past several decades, more small and mid-sized farms are disappearing—farms that could have generated household income in Washington and Idaho.

Like other small businesses, small farms are valuable community assets, generating revenue and employment opportunities. These farms also serve critical environmental, aesthetic, cultural, and social functions that benefit everyone. Finally, a diverse array of productive, independently owned farms operating across the state helps insure a healthy, dependable, and accessible local food supply and preserves farmland for future needs.

“The vision of the Cultivating Success program is to increase producer and consumer understanding, value, and support of sustainable local farming systems in Washington and Idaho through educational and experiential opportunities,” Ostrom said. “Partners in this program strive to create strong communities with infrastructures that provide the resources and skills needed to produce local and sustainable food and agricultural products for the residents of the Pacific and Inland Northwest.”

Read more about the Cultivating Success program, including a profile of Rick and Lora Lee Misterly, two farmer-entrepreneurs in Rice, Wash., who have spun their Cultivating Success education into gold. Be sure to check out the short video below about Cultivating Success, and featuring interviews with and scenes from the Misterly’s farm.

CalendarEvents Calendar

Nov. 2: “Can we grow more nutritious fruits and vegetables using organic farming methods?” Webinar beginning at 10 a.m. Learn more about this free public webinar »

Nov. 10 & 17: Climate Change Webinar. Join WSU soil scientist Craig Cogger for a two-part webinar that cuts through the confusion and gets to the science of climate change. Learn more about this free public webinar »

Nov. 11: Organic Dryland Agriculture. A special WSU symposium presented in conjunction with the annual Tilth Producers of Washington Conference. Learn more and register »

Nov. 11 – 13: Tilth Producers of Washington Annual Conference. Yakima Convention Center. Learn more and register for the conference »

Nov. 15: Deadline to submit a proposal for funding from the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Learn more »

Dec. 5 – 7: Washington State Horticulture Association Annual Meeting, Wenatchee.  Agenda includes a half–day session on organic tree fruit production and marketing. Learn more and register for the meeting »

Find more upcoming events on the Green Times blog »


Green Times is archived at http://organicfarms.wsu.edu/category/green-times/.

The Green Times blog is located at http://organicfarms.wsu.edu/category/blog/.

The Green Times Event calendar is located at http://organicfarms.wsu.edu/tag/event/.

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  • Voice of the Vine is a monthly e-newsletter covering viticulture and enology at Washington State University. Each issue brings you one or two short articles featuring profiles of researchers, students, and alumni working in Washington’s world-class wine industry. Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/aJeDG9.

Green Times is edited by Brian Clark and the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences Marketing, News, and Educaitonal Communications team. Find the news writing team on the web at www.cahnrsnews.wsu.edu or via the Green Times blog.