Exploring Climate Change Impact on Agriculture
As Washington experiences longer summers, higher temperatures, reduced snow pack, and more extreme weather events, the state’s farmers and ranchers are wondering what the impact will be to their bottom line. As some of the most climate-dependent business owners in the state, farmers may have the most to lose.
A group of Washington’s most innovative agriculture producers are joining university researchers, natural resource conservationists and advocates for agriculture to take an in-depth look at the risks presented by global climate change, as well as the potential opportunities.
The Agricultural Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, part of the state’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, met for the first time last week in Moses Lake. Over the next four months, the panel will explore how climate change will impact growing conditions, yields, commodity prices, input costs and other factors.
“Our research on global climate change points to some serious areas of concern for Washington’s agriculture economy,” said Chad Kruger of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at WSU, one of the panel’s co-leaders. “The benefits of a longer, warmer growing season may be outweighed by reductions in available water for irrigation.”
Washington’s 33,000 farmers produced $6.7 billion in agriculture products in 2006. The state is a leading producer of tree fruit, wine grapes and other commodities that could play a meaningful role in carbon sequestration. The food and agriculture industry of the state is estimated to employ 160,000 workers and generate $34 billion in sales.
Additional information about the Agricultural Working Group, as well as presentations, meeting schedules and names of the panelists, is available under “Forestry and Agriculture” at www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange.
Food Scientists Confirm Commercial Product Effectively Kills Bacteria
Research conducted by food sciencists at the University of Idaho and WSU indicate that a commercially available fruit and vegetable wash, when used in a food-manufacturing setting, can dramatically decrease the number of disease-causing organisms in produce-processing washwater. That could reduce by many fold the potential for cross-contamination within the water by such “gram-negative” bacteria as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.
The product, sold commercially as FIT Fruit and Vegetable Wash, not only proved much more effective than the commonly used chlorine dioxide but is made from ingredients like citric acid and distilled grapefruit oil that are generally regarded as safe. Chlorine dioxide, whose use in food plants can put workers at risk, was compromised by soils and plant debris in the washwater and killed only 90 percent of the target organisms in the food plant and followup laboratory studies. By contrast, FIT killed 99.9999 percent, according to associate professor of food science Dong-Hyun Kang of WSU. “If you had a million bacteria, you would have one left.”
The research–unusual because part of it was conducted under real-world conditions in an Idaho freshpack potato operation–will be published by the Journal of Food Science in August. University of Idaho Extension food scientist Jeff Kronenberg said the researchers chose potatoes for their study because their dirt-laden washwater poses the greatest challenge to products designed to control microbial contamination–not because of any food-safety threat potatoes pose. Indeed, Kronenberg said, “We have historically had zero problems with food-borne diseases in potatoes that are sold in grocery stores and restaurants because they’re cooked.”
Kronenberg believes FIT should be further investigated for fresh produce that has been associated with food-borne illness–including lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley and other leafy vegetables–where it is has the potential to save lives.
According to Kang, most food-processing firms cleanse their produce in flumes that operate as aquatic conveyor belts. “If a pathogen is introduced in the washwater, it will grow and continuously contaminate the new produce,” he said. With 15 years of experience, Kang has found it “very, very difficult” to control disease-causing organisms in flume water and said he “didn’t expect this kind of reduction. I’m really happy to see it.”
WSU research technologist Peter Gray agreed, noting that the bacteria were “knocked down below the detection limit almost instantaneously” in the FIT treatments.
Washington Organic Acreage, Production Up Again in 2007
Certified organic acreage farmed in Washington state continues to expand, increasing by an estimated 27 percent between 2006 and 2007. Since 2004 the amount of certified acreage being farmed in the state has increased by 86 percent. Those growth estimates are documented in the annual profile of the state’s organic acreage and crops compiled by the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“We’re careful to point out that the figures in the profile are a best estimate because of anomalies and inconsistencies in the available data,” says WSU CSANR sustainable agriculture specialist David Granatstein. “We’ve been conservative with our analysis, so this report represents a low-end estimate of organically farmed land in the state.”
Two-thirds of the state’s organic land is devoted to three crop categories: forage crops for feeding livestock, vegetables and tree fruit.
The full 2007 organic profile is available for viewing or download at http://tinyurl.com/3h4bp6.