White House Releases National Climate Assessment with UI Researcher’s Look at NW Ag Impacts

Tuesday, May 6 2014

MOSCOW, Idaho – May 6, 2014 – The White House released a new National Climate Assessment Tuesday that includes a section in the Northwest chapter about impacts to the region’s agriculture authored by University of Idaho researcher Sanford Eigenbrode.

An entomologist in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Eigenbrode is one of some 300 members of the report’s writing team. He leads the $20 million, five-year USDA-funded project Regional Approaches to Climate Change in Pacific Northwest Agriculture (REACCHPNA), which is focused on wheat production in the Inland Northwest.

Two other scientists on the project, Oregon State University’s Philip Mote and Susan Capalbo, also contributed, Mote as one of two lead authors for the Northwest team. REACCHPNA is a collaborative project that draws together University of Idaho, Oregon State University, Washington State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists and others.

The report is the latest in a series initiated by a 1990 law that stipulated National Climate Assessments every four years. In the two years required to prepare the current report, the work has been reviewed thoroughly by the scientific community, industry and the public.

Since the public comment deadline 15 months ago, Eigenbrode said, the report’s authors and scientific reviewers have evaluated and responded to hundreds of comments. The goal was to make the process as open, transparent and responsive as possible.

The report’s key message for Northwest agriculture is:

“While the agriculture sector’s technical ability to adapt to changing conditions can offset some adverse impacts of a changing climate, there remain critical concerns for agriculture with respect to costs of adaptation, development of more climate resilient technologies and management, and availability and timing of water.”

As regional temperatures warm, pests like the cereal leaf beetle, one that Eigenbrode studies, may become more serious pests to the region’s main crop that yields more than $1 billion in sales for the three states annually.

The report lays out the science underlying climate change predictions but it does not prescribe specific remedies, he said.

“This document is to aid the public in making those kind of decisions,” Eigenbrode said. “Whether it is municipal leaders, other policy makers, private landowners, or farmers, those who will be affected need to be able to make their decisions in light of the best assessment of the trends in climate that our nation faces.”

“Agriculture has always been a good model for human ingenuity and obtaining the best results from a system that is dependent on the climate and the weather,” he said.

The difference may be that people are getting better at understanding climate through time. “We can provide information that can allow that same very adaptable sector, agriculture, to consider the implications over a longer time period,” he said.

“The assessment allows agriculture to have the advantage of having the longer view so it can be more efficient, less costly and more effective. Adaptation can be better planned and executed, and we won’t be playing catchup.

“We have the advantage of the foresight that the best science can provide us in respect to climate challenge,” Eigenbrode added.

The regional project Eigenbrode directs is part of the endeavor. “We’re contributing to the national database, the national understanding of climate influences on agriculture and projected longer-term effects on agriculture,” he said.