Sustainability is much more than a buzz word currently in vogue. Its a concept that is increasingly viewed in many fields as absolutely essential to the future welfare of the human race.
The fundamental question is whether current practices and processes can be sustained in the future. Can society continue to rely on fossil fuels as now? How long can we continue to harvest our forests in the present manner? Can we continue to produce food the way we do now? Are we consuming resources faster than they can be replaced?
The Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources was created by the state legislature in 1991, as a result of a university initiative, to address sustainability questions important to the future of Washington State.
The purpose of the center is to further the understanding and application of sustainability in agriculture, natural resources and communities through education and applied research, says Chris Feise, CSANR director. To be sustainable, management practices must be profitable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable.
The university senses a broadening base of support for concepts of sustainability in Washington and elsewhere in the country, Feise said.
We generally think of it as having a three-legged stool. The first leg is profitability. It is necessary for those engaging in agriculture and natural resources to be profitable and make a living. Secondly, the practices must be environmentally sound. Weve got to find new ways, and better ways, to protect the environment. Thirdly, we have to do it in a way that is socially acceptable to people living in the area.
Our practices need to be compatible with the interests and the values of the increasingly complex and diverse society that we live in, Feise said. That means, of course, city people as well as agricultural producers and rural people.
This means taking the needs of very large dryland grain farms of eastern Washington into account, as well as the needs of very small, highly intensive direct-marketing farms in the Puget Sound, Feise says.
Where conflicting interests collide, Feise said CSNAR tries to approach the conflict in a manner that helps create discussion that leads to development of common goals.
I would cite as an example, the holistic management work that CSNAR has applied to a variety of groups and organizations, especially in range and pasture management. The center is ready and willing to work in difficult and challenging situations, Feise said.
The center provides a mechanism through which the expertise of all WSU faculty can be tapped, regardless of what department they work in. The center works to establish relationships with faculty, both on campus and throughout the state. It funnels information to faculty about opportunities to apply for grants that promote sustainable agriculture. A small amount of money is available through gifts to promote educational efforts.
CAHE Dean James Zuiches has challenged CSNAR to demonstrate the concepts of sustainability in research projects and integrate the results into the educational programs of the college, both in the classroom and in extension programs.
Feise said a few CSANR success stories best explain the centers activities. The center:
- Initiated the compost program that led to development of the WSU Compost Center, which has become a national model.
- Helped introduce addition of polyacrylamide to water used to irrigate rill-irrigated fields. This practice greatly reduces soil erosion and sediment pollution of tail water from farm fields. Polyacrylamide is a long-chain synthetic polymer that binds soil particles together, making it harder for water to move them.
- Worked with WSUs Ag Horizons Team and farmers in northeastern Washington to expand use of no-till concepts such as direct-seed.
- Helped fund harvest celebrations in western Washington, which resulted in large numbers of city residents visiting west-side farms.
- Supported Carol Miles research on growing bamboo, as well as other alternative crops such as edamame and baby corn. Miles is a WSU faculty member who conducts research and education programs in western Washington. She is based at the WSU Vancouver Research and Extension Center.
- Helped establish the Food Alliance, which has offices in Portland, Oregon. The alliance provides certification that farmers have raised animals or grown products in accordance with good environmental and labor practices. Feise said having the certificate helps farmers gain access to some markets and may help them obtain premium prices.
Additional information about CSANR is available on its web page http://csanr.wsu.edu/.