Harvesting a Wealth of Knowledge about Agriculture in a Changing Climate in the Northwest

By Liz Allen

Panel discussion during the Agriculture in a Changing Climate workshop
Panel discussion during the Agriculture in a Changing Climate workshop. Photo by Brooke Saari

These days I call the Northeast home, but my research is planted solidly in the Pacific Northwest. Trips west always involve a flurry of meetings with colleagues in Washington and Idaho and visits to my family in Oregon. My most recent visit began with lambing season at my brother’s farm in the Willamette Valley and wrapped up with three thought-provoking days at the Agriculture in a Changing Climate Workshop. This Workshop was a first-of-its-kind conference hosted by Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources (CSANR), the USDA Northwest Climate Hub, and the Regional Approaches to Climate Change for Pacific Northwest Agriculture (REACCH) team. The central objectives of the workshop were to analyze knowledge gaps and explore opportunities for improving decision support tools.Facilitators from the Ruckelshaus Center helped guide representatives from tribal, federal, state and county government agencies, universities and agricultural producers’ organizations in productive round-table sessions. Topics discussed included soil carbon sequestration, nitrogen management, livestock systems, biofuels, water resources, and a fascinating range of industry perspectives on managing in the context of climate change. Several speakers at the workshop shared a message that there is an emerging generation of scientists, farmers and policy makers who are interested in working collaboratively across institutions and developing new technologies to monitor and manage agricultural systems. There is a sense of readiness to communicate openly to address climate change impacts through science, management and policy channels.  This is the first in a series of AgClimate blog posts from workshop participants, sharing some of our take-away lessons and perspectives on what we heard.

For me, the biggest lessons were summarized on the final day of the workshop, when attendees articulated three needs that must be addressed to support scientifically informed climate change adaptation and mitigation practices in Northwest agriculture. We need to:

  1. Strengthen networks of collaboration among institutions, industries and individuals in the Northwest. This will build trust through communication and knowledge sharing.
  2. Understand motivations that inform climate change adaptation and mitigation decisions. This will allow us to clarify and quantify potential social and economic barriers to adoption of practices, and identify incentives for new management approaches.
  3. Design tools and resources to inform “on the ground” decisions. Whether these are monitoring devices, maps or apps, scientific knowledge shared through customized tools at the right scale for decision-makers will have the greatest chance of achieving impact.
Three themes diagram.
Figure 1: Three themes diagram.

As these three core regional needs were being discussed I sketched a conceptual illustration in my notebook (Figure 1). In the weeks following the workshop I’ve thought a lot about how success in tackling climate change challenges in the region depends on addressing these three themes in tandem.

One question posed early on in the workshop resonated with me and seemed to sum up the reason that all of us had travelled to Kennewick to grapple with questions about what global climate change means for agriculture in the Northwest. After a presentation about inevitable challenges ahead, rancher Beth Robinette asked, “What gives you hope for the future?” What ultimately gives me hope for the future of agriculture in the Northwest is the knowledge that so many thoughtful people are committed to branching out beyond old ways of working to find creative solutions. We’re at a point in time where an integrated approach is needed to influence adaptation and mitigation activities in regional agriculture. We need to simultaneously pursue these three questions: 1) How do we communicate and who participates? 2) What motivates decisions about changing practices? And 3) what tools and resources should we focus on developing?

Here at AgClimate.net we’ll be working hard to do our part to nurture a forum for collaborating across organizational boundaries and sharing scientific information about climate and agriculture. We’re counting on you to share your questions about climate change and agriculture, thoughts about management challenges and solutions and updates on your research with this growing community. Sign up for the monthly AgClimate newsletter, write to us via the “Ask a Question” tab and encourage friends and colleagues to join the conversation.


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