Exploring Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Agriculture in the Northwest

By Liz Allen

Vineyard in front of a red barn
Workshop participants included government agency staff, agriculture industry representatives, and annual and perennial crop producers. Photo Credit: Red Hills Vineyard in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Photo by Stuart Seeger, CC BY 2.0.

One of the best things about my work is that it connects me with researchers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds who are committed to conducting science that informs natural resource management decisions. I’ve been fortunate to work with WSU researchers studying regional climate change impacts for nearly 6 years now, and over that time many of my academic colleagues have developed new skills related to communicating their research to diverse audiences. I’ve also witnessed scientists’ growing interest in learning from stakeholders who make decisions about managing agricultural and natural resources “out there in the real world”.

Over the years I’ve been involved in the BioEarth research project, I think we’ve made great progress in developing effective approaches for structuring workshops and meetings to increase dialogue and information sharing among researchers and natural resource managers. I’m constantly struck by how much there is to learn about diverse agricultural systems in the Northwest and the complex tradeoffs, risks, and potential benefits that farmers and other agriculture sector stakeholders are faced with when making any kind of decision about planting, harvesting, investments, and allocation of resources over the near-term or the long-term. Even while we’ve made progress in learning from stakeholders about their decision-making processes and information needs, we still have a long way to go to effectively incorporate those considerations into models of climate change impacts on agriculture in the region.

Back in mid-February, the BioEarth research team hosted a workshop focused on gathering stakeholder input about potential climate change adaptation responses in the agriculture sector. The workshop was held at the WSU TriCities campus in Richland, Washington. This event was designed for BioEarth modelers to learn about how farmers and other agriculture stakeholders view a range of strategies for adapting diverse regional agricultural systems to changing climatic conditions– including long-run adaptations related to crop choice and varietal selection, new irrigation technologies, and on-farm water storage, and short-run adaptations such as deficit irrigation and irrigation for cooling. More generally, we were interested in learning about stakeholders’ expectations surrounding future economic, technological and social changes in the Pacific Northwest.

The BioEarth research team compiled notes from discussion that took place during the workshop and created a 7-page report summarizing key themes and important considerations shared by participants about climate change expectations, adaptation strategies and information gaps. We’re very grateful to stakeholders who participated in this event and provided feedback on a previous draft of this summary report. Lessons learned from this agricultural adaptation strategies workshop and other researcher-stakeholder interactions must be incorporated by the research community to ensure that we are modeling scenarios of producer responses to climate change impacts that are realistic and informative for decision-makers.

This article is also posted on the CSANR Perspectives on Sustainability blog.


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