Study seeks climate, farm connections
Leaders of a $20 million study into climate change hope to help farmers manage possible risks and opportunities in the future.
Regional Approaches to Climate Change, which is known by the acronym REACCH, released its annual report at its meeting in Richland, Wash., the week of March 3.
Kristy Borrelli, REACCH extension specialist, said the project aims to see how the region might be affected in the future under projected climate change.
Project director Sanford Eigenbrode, a University of Idaho entomologist, said there aren’t yet recommendations for farmers.
“We don’t want to be premature, we want to be prudent,” he said.
In a University of Idaho press release, Eigenbrode said the annual meeting represents phase two. Phase one consisted of getting the team of more than 90 project scientists, students and stakeholders on board and experiments up and running, he said.
Eigenbrode acknowledged that there is much suspicion and controversy related to the science of climate change. His team aims to be trustworthy sources for farmers, relying on peer-reviewed scientific literature.
“It remains extremely strongly supported by the science that climate change is underway and human factors are affecting it,” he told the Capital Press. Until there’s enough evidence otherwise, “it’s our responsibility to react to the science that is conducted through a peer-reviewed process.”
REACCH supports long-recommended conservation practices and increased revenue management, Borrelli said. Increasing organic matter to retain soil moisture will benefit crops, she said.
“They’re going to be more resistant to the changes in drought and yields will be higher than somebody nearby who doesn’t manage for soil organic matter,” she said.
Eigenbrode said previously published reports indicate wheat yields may stay the same or increase, but REACCH hopes to add extreme weather events and insect and disease consideration.
“Longer-term, we must be thinking about which of these biotic stresses are likely to be more or less the same story and which may change, based on the projections,” Eigenbrode said.
Cropping system models used to make yield projections have been generated to consider potential yields under different production systems and climate scenarios.
Borrelli said the project helps to collect data to characterize cereal production in the region, including basic agronomy, insects and potential models of the future.
Borrelli hopes to establish a clearer vision of the relationship between climate factors and impacts on farming systems and connect with growers, extension agents and conservation districts.
Decision support tools and data management developed by REACCH have been designed to continue for the long term, Eigenbrode said.
The five-year study is already longer than most USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded projects, which run three years or less, he said. NIFA will not be renewing the project with a single grant, he said.
Eigenbrode expects the study to go beyond the original five years.
“That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the processes and changes we’re trying to address with this project,” he said.