Penn State to help Northeast agriculture adapt to potential climate change

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State is one of 12 land-grant universities that will collaborate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northeast Climate Hub to give the region's farmers, foresters and land managers better access to information and tools for adapting to climate and weather variability.

Under a $50,000 agreement with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences will partner with Cornell University to assess research and educational needs and to create a network for information sharing and exchange. The funding comes from the USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, which is based at Penn State's University Park campus.

"The Northeast Climate Hub is looking forward to working with Penn State and Cornell to help support our farmers and foresters as they tackle climate-related challenges," said Climate Hub Co-Director Howard Skinner, physiological plant ecologist with the Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit. "This agreement reinforces our vision of maintaining and strengthening agricultural production and natural resources under increasing climate variability and environmental change."

Based in Durham, New Hampshire, the Northeast Climate Hub is one of seven hubs around the country formed to address increasing climate and weather-related risks to agriculture, such as devastating floods, crippling droughts, extreme storms, fires and invasive pests. Hosted by the USDA Forest Service's Northern Research Station, the Northeast Climate Hub is a partnership among the Forest Service, Agricultural Research Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other federal, state and private organizations.

As part of the agreement, Penn State and Cornell will cooperate to develop, implement and evaluate decision-support materials for producers that describe how best to cope with -- and even take advantage of -- increasing variability in weather, according to Rama Radhakrishna, professor of agricultural and extension education at Penn State, who will direct the evaluation component of the project.

"This initiative is designed to help guide research agendas, formulate educational curricula and produce decision-making tools in order to help farmers, foresters, landowners and the public adapt to the impacts of climate change in the region," Radhakrishna said. "To accomplish these goals, we are working with Cornell to assess existing capacity among university faculty and extension educators and to determine where gaps exist in work currently being done relative to climate change and agriculture in the Northeast."

Daniel Tobin, Penn State postdoctoral scholar in the College of Agricultural Sciences' Office of Research and Graduate Education, will conduct needs assessments and engage the various stakeholders in the region. He noted that the project will include surveys and focus groups to assess stakeholders' perceived risks and establish research and educational priorities.

"Penn State is helping to draft a national report on regional vulnerabilities that synthesizes the assessment reports that have been produced by each state," Tobin said. "In all of these activities, we are establishing communication and information-sharing networks with other universities, state and federal agencies, and key stakeholder groups in the agricultural and forestry sectors."

Gary Thompson, College of Agricultural Sciences associate dean for research and graduate education, explained that Penn State is committed to helping address regional and global issues related to climate change. "This partnership is an important component of that effort," he said.

Other Penn State researchers participating in the project include Tom Richard, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment; James Shortle, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Economics, and director of Penn State's Environment and Natural Resources Institute; and Karen Fisher-Vanden, professor of environmental and resource economics.

The project is funded for one year, and potential exists for the USDA and Penn State to pursue a multi-year agreement to extend the initiative, officials said.

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Last Updated November 21, 2014