WSU Climate Friendly Farming Team Wins National Innovation Award

The Washington State University Climate Friendly Farming Team has won a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Partnership Award for Innovative Program Models.

L-R, Front – Shulin Chen, Claudio Stockle, Shawel Hail-Mariam, Chris Feise, David Granatstein; Middle – Dave Huggins, Hal Collins, Phil Wandschneider, Craig MacConnell; Back – Chad Kruger, Stewart Higgins, Dave Sjoding. Click to download high-resolution image.

Climate Friendly Farming is a project of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources designed to explore how agriculture can move from a source of greenhouse gases to a sink for carbon with the goal of mitigating global warming. Three farming systems were studied: dairy, irrigated crops, and dryland grain. The project combined field studies, computer modeling, technology development and deployment, and educational outreach.

“The Climate Friendly Farming team integrates researchers and Extension educators from several disciplines to tackle the complex issue of greenhouse gas emissions on many fronts,” said David Granatstein, a WSU sustainable agriculture specialist and one of the founders of the project.

“Our project pursued three strategies to achieve its goals — reduce emissions, replace fossil fuels, and restore soil carbon — knowing that no single solution exists,” Granatstein said. “We’ve partnered with university and USDA researchers, state agencies, private industry and non-governmental agencies, and many new ideas were born during the course of the project that are now being developed. For example, the solid fiber from anaerobic digestion was treated and tested as a replacement for peat in potting mixes. This adds value, and can help keep peat in the ground where it will continue to be sequestered carbon.”

One of the project’s most exciting innovations is an anaerobic digester that takes dairy cow manure from “rot to watts,” collecting methane gas that can be used to generate electricity or used as a vehicle fuel. Another is a crop-soil simulation model that can potentially be used to validate agricultural credits in a carbon market or cap-and-trade system.

The project was developed in concert with its initial funder, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. In 2003, the Allen Foundation approached CSANR looking to support research that investigated the connection between agriculture and the environment. The Allen Foundation funded the project with an initial $3.75 million. To date, the project has been funded with about $10 million.

“WSU has long been committed to agricultural innovation,” said Chad Kruger, director of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Agriculture is Washington’s largest industry and employer and we strive to serve that industry in ways that minimize environmental impact while maximizing economic value.

“We’re proud and excited about this award and that our work has been acknowledged at the national level,” Kruger said.

NIFA is the new name of the organization formerly known as Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.