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EnergyAg Newsbriefs

February 2014

Welcome to this edition of EnergyAg Newsbriefs brought to you by the Washington State University Extension Energy Program Library. Please forward this issue to those of your colleagues interested in energy-efficient agricultural practices. Archives of past messages

While every URL in EnergyAg Newsbriefs is checked for accuracy prior to distribution, URLs may change, and servers may temporarily fail to connect to working URLs.


Determining the life cycle of biofuels
Environmental Life Cycle Analysis for Biodiesel” was added to on January 31, 2014. This online feature examines efforts to determine the environmental, energy, and economic performance of renewable fuels, including soybean biodiesel and ethanol. It contrasts the results of previous efforts to provide a life cycle analysis, and provides links to further resources.

Environmental benefits of grassland as a biofuel feedstock
Researchers from Michigan State University compared biofuel crop systems to determine their impact on the biodiversity of plants, insects, microbes, and birds. Corn, switchgrass, and mixes of native prairie grasses and flowering plants were studied; the native grass and flowering plant combination was shown to have the most beneficial effect on biodiversity, and subsequently, on methane consumption, pest suppression, and plant pollination. The research was published in the January 28, 2014, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To learn more, see “More to Biofuel Production than Yield,” published January 13, 2014, in MSU Today.

Polycultures for biofuel production
Diverse Plant Mixtures for Sustainable Biofuels,” published January 31, 2014, at, provides information on mixed-species polycultures and their efficacy in sustainable biofuel production. A summary of research findings and links to further resources are provided.


Cool Farm Tool to reduce carbon emissions
The Cool Farm Tool is a new web-based resource developed by the Cool Farm Institute, a nonprofit entity dedicated to agricultural greenhouse gas management. The tool acts as a calculator for greenhouse gas emissions based on current practices, and provides a platform for testing the results of alternative farm management scenarios. Measurements for soil carbon sequestration are included in the calculation algorithms. The Cool Farm Tool is free to use with registration.


Ranchers turn rangeland into carbon sink
Just Add Compost: How to Turn Your Grassland Ranch into a Carbon Sink,” published January 14, 2014, in Grist, describes a research project being conducted by UC Berkeley and the Marin Resource Conservation Project. The study is examining the carbon sequestration effects of adding compost to grassland, which is subsequently grazed by cattle. Promising results have been observed so far. For details, see the Marin Carbon Project website.


Sonoma to become sustainable wine region
Wine growers in Sonoma County, California, have banded together to become the world’s first 100% sustainable wine region. The three-phase program will train and educate farmers on best management practices in land use, canopy management, energy efficiency, water quality, carbon emissions management, and other key elements of sustainable vineyard and winery operations. The ultimate goal is to certify all of the vineyards and wineries in the county within five years. For details, see the January 15, 2014, press release at

Free energy audits for Idaho potato growers
Potato growers in eastern Idaho can receive free energy audits in exchange for donating potatoes to local food banks. High Country Resource, Conservation, and Development is running the program, and will provide the free audits to growers in Madison, Fremont, and Teton counties. To learn more, see “Spud Growers Get Energy Audits for Crop Donations,” published January 9, 2014 in Capital Press.


One potato, two potato, CO2 potato
Potatoes Show Promise for Meeting Climate Change Challenges,” published in the February 2014 issue of Agricultural Research, describes a study of the potential effects of global climate change on potato crops. The researchers found that potatoes actually thrive with elevated CO2 levels, possibly because the plants can utilize water more efficiently under such conditions.

FAO calls for careful farm mechanization
A new book by the U.N. Food and Agriculture organization (FAO), Mechanization for Rural Development: a Review of Patterns and Progress from around the World, analyzes the use of farm machinery worldwide and its effects on farm sustainability. The authors argue that the development of farm machinery should run parallel to sustainable crop development, and recommend policies and practices for the wise use of farm machinery to reduce tillage, increase soil health, and improve economic conditions for small farmers globally. A book announcement appeared on the FAO website on January 17, 2014.

Carbon found in soil at greater depths
Research completed by Agricultural Research Service scientists suggests that carbon sequestration can occur not only near the surface in soils, but as much as five feet below the soil surface. The results have implications for the quantification of sustainable biofuel production. For information, see “A Surprising Supply of Deep Soil Carbon,” published in the February 2014 issue of Agricultural Research.


Sustainable Agriculture Standard webinars announced
The Leonardo Academy will present a series of webinars on its Draft National Sustainable Agriculture Standard (LEO-4000). The series will consist of an introductory webinar and three additional webinars covering the environmental, social, and economic sections of the standard. Registration for the webinars is free, and comments on the new standard will be accepted until March 6, 2014.


Soil Quality Network 2014: Practical Soil Health for Farmers
February 13, 2014, Mount Vernon, Washington

Presentations and panel discussions will address field assessment of soil quality, cover crops, compost, and plant resistance to disease – all important factors for building and maintaining healthy, productive and profitable soils.

Western Ag Biodiversity Practices Training Short Course
February 13, 2014, Moses Lake, Washington
March 27, 2014, The Dalles, Oregon

Learn the latest applied biodiversity enhancing practices and how to implement them. Sharpen your skills in beneficial insect identification and the native plant habitats that support them. This course is free for farmers and agricultural professionals.

Northwest Washington Sustainable Agriculture Conference
March 7, 2014, Bellingham, Washington

This daylong event will once again highlight issues important to produce and livestock farmers in Northwest Washington, with sessions on food safety/GAP/FSMA, fertility management, animal feeds, livestock economics, and plant disease management. University and government experts will be presenting alongside farmers, with plenty of time for discussion to get the information you are looking for.

Northwest Wood-based Biofuels and Co-products Conference
April 28-30, 2014, Seattle, Washington

This conference brings together researchers, business leaders, government agencies, and economic development personnel to share research findings, ideas, and strategies to sustainably develop wood-based bio-refineries to produce biofuels and co-products in the Pacific Northwest.

Want to Contribute? If you have information on events, publications, or other ag-related topics that you would like mentioned in an upcoming issue of EnergyAg Newsbriefs, please contact Talia Mathews at