Frost-Free Season is Getting Longer Across U.S. — Climate Central #ClimateChange


From Climate Central:

The average duration of the frost-free season is about 15 days longer across the U.S. than it was in the early 20th century. Every year since 1980 has experienced a longer frost free season than the 1895 to 2015 average. While there will continue to be variations in the amount of frost-free days from year to year, climate change is contributing to an overall increase in the number of days without frost.

The West has seen the most dramatic increases in the length of the frost-free season, with Boise and Reno each adding about a month more to their frost-free season since 1970.

The longer the time without a frost, the longer the growing season. While this may seem good — more time should lead to a larger crop yield — it could actually have detrimental effects on the crops we grow. Warmer weather helps pests survive longer which can wreak havoc on crops. Rising temperatures are also expected to contribute to a shift in which areas are most agriculturally productive and what crops grow there.

Methodology: We did not include cities where the average frost season from 1970-2015 was less than 2 months. In addition, outlier temperatures were not removed. An abnormally cold night in July, for example, would result in an unusually short season that year but was included if we were able to verify the temperature.

Acequia Culture and the Regional Food System — Miguel Santistevan

Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO Photo by Devon G. Peña
Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO
Photo by Devon G. Peña

From the Green Fire Times (Miguel Santistevan) via the Taos Acequia Organization:

Acequia irrigation originated in the highlands of Central Asia more than 10,000 years ago and traveled to places such as India and the Middle East. As acequias were established in different areas from the Old World to the New, crops from those areas were incorporated into the diet and practice of acequia culture. By the time the acequia system arrived in the Americas in the 16th century, it carried with it an entourage of crops and animals that represented its origins: apple trees and chickens from Asia, cattle and sorghum from Africa, sheep and many legumes from the Near East, to name a few.

The Old World acequia tradition was matched by incredible agricultural development of indigenous populations in the Americas. Indigenous peoples were practicing many kinds of agricultural production that relied on intensive management of the landscape, including dryland agriculture, floating gardens, agri-forestry, terracing and flood irrigation, among others. The acequia concept came northward with Spanish and Mexican settlers and later included the crops and practices of Puebloan cultures as it took root in what would become New Mexico.

Over time, a unique and integrated food system developed that can only be found in New Mexico. A mixture Old and New World foods, crops and traditions developed into a regional food system that was mostly sustained by acequias. Communities relied on each other to provide staples that could be produced abundantly in their respective environments. What could not be grown in particular areas was obtained through barter with other communities. For example, chile produced in villages of lower elevations could be traded for potatoes that came from higher elevations.

New Mexico eventually experienced significant changes of modernization, many of which interrupted agricultural practices and our relationship to local food and acequias. Some lands shifted to pasture and alfalfa production, feeding our desire for dairy and meat products. Today, acequia use can be measured in the production of bulk commodities and smaller-scale specialties that feed farmers’ markets, as well as the continuation of traditional agriculture and food traditions. Many foods from acequia systems continue to be the cornerstone of local culture and regional cuisine, with specialty foods like chicos (dried horno-roasted corn stew), tamales, posole, and of course, chile, making appearances at least for holidays. Many others regularly consume atole and chaquegüe (blue and white cornmeal porridge), crops that were grown in or originated from an acequia landscape.

As a person looks to reconnect with local food, the best place to start is with what has worked in the past. The acequia tradition offers practicality and sustainability for food production in our environment, which can be characterized by alkaline soils, limited water and potential weather extremes. Over generations of agricultural refinement, acequia culture offers examples for the expansion of our regional food system in terms of community organization, resiliency in practice and its relationship with incidental food production in the landscape.

The term acequia not only refers to the physical irrigation channel but to all the members who belong to it and help manage it. Local knowledge contained within the community and the organizational structure that keeps people connected to the tradition will be important for strengthening our regional food system. Acequia communities manage resources like water and land together for mutual benefits in agricultural production. These relationships result in people coming together to continue the practices necessary to the production of food such as cleaning acequias, picking up bales, or butchering animals (matanzas).

The acequia agricultural tradition can be described by the use of diverse crop and animal types and land-use techniques in the watershed. Production takes on a seasonal character with different activities meeting each season. Root crops and certain grains can be planted in the late fall; certain frost-tolerant legumes, roots and other grains can be planted in the late winter/early spring; and most grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables can be planted in the late spring and early summer. Working with various crops at different times of the year can allow the grower to take advantage of the potential qualities of each season, such as temperatures and moisture, and can create the conditions for more sustainable yields over the long term.

Acequia culture also carries with it the concept of jardín de riso and gathering the landscape, components of a regional food system likely to gain importance as we increasingly feel the effects of a deteriorating industrial food system and climate change. The jardín de riso is the collection of wild plants that serve as food and medicine that happen to self-propagate in the irrigated landscape as “weeds.” Several varieties of wild spinach (quelites) and purslane (verdolagas) flourish among crops in acequia-irrigated fields. The relationship acequias have with the extended landscape provides a connection to additional food resources such as piñón, chimaja (wild parsley) and other food and medicinal plants. In this tradition, gathering from the landscape can strengthen our regional food system by making use of wild plants such as four-wing saltbush and Indian ricegrass. These food sources that thrive in our landscape were an important part of the diet of indigenous people of the region prior to European contact.

It is inevitable that there will be some challenges to our food security in the future. But these challenges can be met by innovations in our relationship to food if they are based on what has worked in the past and developed in a manner that is respectful to the environment and the cultures from which they came. Acequia agriculture has been a cornerstone in the organization of the community and the actualization of food security and can (and should) continue to play a fundamental role into our future. Then our regional food system not only will serve the food needs of our population, but will allow the continuation of longstanding agricultural traditions in New Mexico. The acequia landscape has changed, but every square foot of land connected to the acequia now represents a great part and potential of our regional food system and its ability to feed our communities.


Miguel Santistevan is dedicated to the conservation of traditional agricultural practices, seeds and acequia systems. He maintains a small acequia-irrigated Permaculture farm in Taos with his wife and two daughters. More information about Santistevan’s various activities can be found at

Corn research aims for water savings — Ag Journal

From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.

Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.

Farmers and agribusiness professionals got the chance to kick the tires recently on several related research projects during a meeting and tour held at Wray, Colorado. Corn harvest, which started roughly a week and a half ahead of normal in the area, was already under way in surrounding fields.

In addition to discussing progress on drought tolerant hybrids, the group heard from private crop consultant Chad Godsey, of Eckley, who is looking into the amount of potential water savings from variable rate irrigation…

Mark Sponsler, the association’s executive director, praised the project, saying it was right in line with heightened concerns about resource management by farmers, rural communities and the general public.

In fact, Colorado Corn is launching a new farm stewardship award this year, to be presented at the association’s annual meeting and banquet Dec. 7 in Yuma. The honor will include a $10,000 cash award and an expense paid trip to the next annual Commodity Classic, which brings together leading producers of corn, wheat, soybeans and sorghum.

In a field at Rogers Farm south of Wray, Godsey pointed to an irrigation tower outfitted with a variable rate motor. Blue valves mounted at the top of each drop nozzle shut on and off independently as the unit crosses the field. Godsey said he was using a soil texture grid map along with six soil moisture probes and an on-site weather station to set up his irrigation scheduling.

“I’m confident we can save 15 percent on our water use compared to just straight irrigation, and I think our savings in sandy soils could be even better,” he said. “We’ve been pumping less than we historically have, and last year we did not see it affect our yield at all.”

Eventually, he hopes to test his theory in a year when rainfall is more limited.

He is also evaluating the impact of various water and fertilizer rates throughout the growing season and the effect of higher seeding rates on irrigation demand.

One of the challenges to adopting variable rate technology is cost. Jim Williams, the president of J&J Irrigation in Wray, estimated that variable rate technology nearly doubles the cost of a new center-pivot, which starts at around $60,000. In some cases, financial incentives are available through programs like the National Resource Conservation Service’s EQIP or from rural electric cooperatives, which can help defray the costs.

Recognizing the need for cost containment in the current economic environment, a team from USDA’s Ag Research Service in Fort Collins has been working to identify an affordable tool for diagnosing water stress and pinpointing precisely when irrigation applications are needed…

something new has come on the market, the FLIR One thermal imaging device. For around $200, it attaches to an Android or Mac smartphone and effectively turns it into a thermal imaging camera.

To enhance the use of the device, they also showed off two low-cost, easy-to-build accessories. A “selfie stick” for mounting the camera-phone allows them to vary the angle of photos taken from above the canopy. A simple shade-measuring tool, made by applying strips of tape to a plain white plastic pipe, can be laid on the ground under the plants and used to help judge canopy thickness.

“It’s a cheap way of getting true facts about your field,” Willi said.

Sponsler suggested the monitoring technique could be used to complement readings from soil moisture probes, which are expensive to install. He could also see it becoming popular among crop consultants who need quick and easy ways to monitor crop conditions in multiple fields.

He also noted that incorporating it with CSU’s corn hybrid trials might help researchers collect more data about the how plants respond to various growing conditions throughout the season.