Soil & Sea: reports from our producers
This article was originally published in March 2017
We may one day be eating pancakes made with blueish flour. Washington State University researchers have developed a new wheat-like grain they call Salish Blue, a cross between wheat and its wild cousin, wheat grass. Their goal was to make something that’s like wheat but grows back year after year. Normal wheat dies every year, and wheat farmers have to till the soil and plant new seeds. That means more work for farmers and causes erosion, which makes farmland less healthy and can carry agricultural chemicals into nearby waters. Salish Blue is not yet commercially available, but one of the researchers who developed it has been baking with it.
People who eat fish from Washington state waters will be protected by a combination of new federal and state pollution rules. In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved 45 of the pollution standards that the Washington Department of Ecology adopted earlier in the year. It also said it would impose more than 100 federal standards in Washington. The new standards are meant to protect people who eat about a serving a day, or 175 grams.
Good news for California farmers: heavy precipitation is erasing years of extremely dry conditions in parts of California, with the latest federal report showing that just over 51 percent of the state remains in drought — and no areas have the worst rating, “exceptional drought.”
Peaches, pistachios, almonds and other tree crops may no longer be able to grow in California within 30 to 50 years because it may be too warm, according to University of California research. The trees need a certain amount of “chill hours” — rigid temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees — that help set buds that turn into flowers in spring, then into fruits and nuts in summer. The problem is that over the past several years there has been a decrease in the amount of hours (known as “sleep hours”) that trees need to reach these temperatures. Trees that need 700 sleep hours reportedly have had only 500. The result? The trees don’t bloom uniformly, which can dramatically reduce yield.
The risk of major spills in the Salish Sea soon could increase by as much as 168 percent, thanks to the possible sevenfold rise in oil tanker traffic associated with Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion. These new ships carrying oil from the pipeline would travel through transboundary areas that include both U.S. and Canadian waters, on the border of British Columbia and Washington.