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Climate change and ag initiatives: Can we achieve more than the sum of the parts?

Posted by Chad Kruger | November 21, 2012

Integrating Pacific Northwest Research, Extension and Teaching Initiatives on Climate Change and Agriculture:

Achieving More than the Sum of the Parts?

Over the past decade, more than 50 million dollars in competitive grant funding for climate change research has been invested in Pacific Northwest agricultural science institutions making the Pacific Northwest a global leader in agricultural climate change science. Much of this investment has come in the form of large, trans-disciplinary collaborative projects like REACCH (Regional Approaches to Climate Change) that integrate research, teaching, and extension functions addressing nearly every aspect of the agriculture and climate change interface. Work areas include understanding carbon and nitrogen dynamics, trace gas fluxes, model development and integration, socio-economic assessment, climate impact assessment, genetic resources, technology development for emissions reduction, and public policy.

At the 3rd Annual Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference ( October 1-2, 2012 in Boise, we organized a special session panel discussion entitled Integrating Pacific Northwest Research, Extension and Teaching Initiatives on Climate Change and Agriculture. The purpose of the session was to initiate conversations amongst agricultural scientists, other members of the regional scientific community and key stakeholders in how we can better coordinate between projects in generating and delivering relevant science on agriculture and climate change to stakeholders in the region.

Our goals for the session were:

  1. To have panelists give a quick sense of the breadth and depth of work currently funded on trans-disciplinary ag/climate projects;
  2. To discuss the benefits and challenges of conducting trans-disciplinary, integrated projects;
  3. To discuss how we can achieve “more than the sum of the parts” cross-project integration in terms of generating outcome from the federal investment; and
  4. To identify tangible “next steps” for coordination of ag climate science.

Panelists included Sanford Eigenbrode (REACCH), Jennifer Adam (BioEarth), Aaron Carter (T-CAP), and Elizabeth Whitefield (Animal Agriculture and Climate Change), and I served as moderator. The panelists provided brief overviews of the major integrated projects, discussed the composition of the teams and goals of each project, and discuss the benefits and challenges faced in conducting these complex projects.

There were a few specific conclusions drawn from the panel discussion:

  1. There was a consensus that we do need to be coordinating amongst the various federally funded projects to achieve “more than the sum of the parts” in terms of outcomes and impacts. The advantage of having so many distinct projects covering a broad range of agricultural systems, scientific methodologies, and people gives us a tremendous opportunity to leverage our projects in such a way to establish the PNW as the leading region in the world for agriculture and climate change science.
  2. There were several clear opportunities for high-level research collaboration, including sharing instrumentation, cyber-infrastructure and data management tools, coordinating graduate education opportunities, and generating researchable topics, much of which is already happening.
  3. A very clear message came from stakeholders in the audience (and it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard it) – that it’s a major logistical challenge for those outside of the research institutions to wade through the confusion of figuring out which project(s) or scientist(s) are doing work that is relevant to their interests. There was a clear call for a “one-stop shop”-type of interface to help connect information users with the most relevant science generated from each of the projects and scientists. This is another challenge that many of us have been discussing for some time, and this session helped raise this priority in many of our internal discussions.
  4. The final conclusion was that we need to create a regular space for interaction between projects. Some of this is underway (often due to the fact that several faculty PI’s participate in multiple projects), but it has largely been informal to date. The potential for using a venue such as the PNW Climate Conference or even a special conference focused on agriculture seemed to be the most realistic strategy for formalizing inter-project communication.

A follow-up poster session featured specific research, education and extension projects from these various projects that were presented by both faculty members and graduate students. Topics covered in the poster session included: climate projects related to agriculture, cropping systems, genetic resources, nitrogen emissions and management, soil carbon dynamics, crop quality impacts, biotic stresses, crop protection, livestock (emissions and control technology), organic agriculture, model development and integration, water resources, social aspects, stakeholder engagement through extension, economics and policy, and education.

This article was originally published in the November issue of the The OutREACCH, a quarterly report by REACCH.


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