How can we build a more collaborative research and extension paradigm?

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally,

Many who conduct scientific research often find themselves asking, why is it that people don’t do more with the data and tools that scientists develop? There are cases when more scientific research is needed to better understand a phenomenon or instances where more interdisciplinary research will expand our understanding of a particular topic. There are other times, though, when improved processes for stakeholder involvement in research and tool development is what is necessary. This is true for many problems linked to climate change, or any other agricultural or natural resource issue. In this article I focus on those “other times:” when the way we “do” science matters and can ultimately improve or hinder the effectiveness of our scientific research and the impacts it will have in solving real-world problems.

One strategy for improving communication and stakeholder involvement that has received recent attention is using applied research to create decision support tools as a way to help land managers improve their decision making through targeted use of relevant scientific information. Many of these “decision support” tools in the realm of agriculture and climate are designed to address climate and weather-related risks to improve production and conservation outcomes. Decision support tools are resources that “help decision makers to explore different scenarios and available options and to anticipate the potential risks and gains associated with them” (Roncoli et al., 2006). These tools are being developed to help solve real-world challenges yet many of them remain underutilized. One of the reasons stakeholders are not necessarily using many of these tools is because they haven’t been engaged in the process of developing them, so they (the tools) don’t really fit their (the stakeholders’) needs.

One way to improve the usefulness of these tools is by integrating ‘coproduction’ into our scientific endeavors. Coproduction is the “process of producing usable, or actionable science through collaboration between scientists and those who use science” (Meadow et al., 2015). Simply put, coproduction is a way to collaboratively engage stakeholders over time in the research and tool development process. There are many who are writing on this topic who suggest that a lack of coproduction with stakeholders is precisely why various tools and much scientific information are underutilized. We agree that there’s a good chance that this is the case, so those of us in the applied research field are trying to improve our understanding of how this works.

Photo: Farmers attend field day, photo credit: Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

There is a continuum of stakeholder engagement that outlines the ways that researchers and relevant stakeholders might engage with one another to improve collaborative processes (Figure 1). The process of engagement is itself an important aspect of coproduction that can be evaluated as an output, in other words, we should be looking not just at end-products or tools but also at the process whereby they came about. Luckily, scientists are increasingly being encouraged to describe coproduction processes in their research proposals, for example in the USDA Northwest Climate Hub’s most recent Request for Proposals. Here are some other relevant regional examples of projects that illustrate effective stakeholder engagement:

  • Oregon State University’s Dry Farming project is a great example of participatory research that is being conducted with farmers in the Willamette Valley. This project is designed as a participatory research project and is far along the engagement continuum where stakeholders have been engaged at every stage of the project. To this end, they have directed the research to fit their production needs, from picking varieties of crops to test in regional demonstrations to leading outreach efforts.
  • Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in partnership with the Regional Approaches to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest, collaborated on the development of regional case studies that illustrate practices that producers are using on their farm to increase their resilience while maximizing production and conservation goals. This is an example of University Extension letting producers speak for themselves while elevating producers’ voices so they can be shared within networks such as and beyond.
  • The Climate Impacts Research Consortium conducted the Big Wood project, which was developed with coproduction in mind. Purposeful efforts were made to engage a diverse set of stakeholders, over five years, in the Big Wood River Basin in Idaho to examine different scenarios based on human and climatic factors that modeled hydrological and landscape processes to aid adaptation efforts in the region. Stakeholders thus took an active role in identifying relevant scenarios that improved modeling efforts that might inform their plans for addressing climate impacts in their watershed.

Unfortunately, there isn’t necessarily an ideal level of engagement because it depends on the nature of the project. Coproduction can be more costly in terms of resources and certainly in terms of time than more traditional research endeavors. However, shifting our levels of engagement along this continuum will lead to more effective partnerships between scientists and stakeholders and will make our tools and resources more useful and usable in the long run.

Figure 1. A continuum of engagement. Many are encouraging researchers to move towards greater coproduction processes, shifting from no engagement towards a collegial engagement (for details, see Roesch-McNally and Prendeville, 2017).


Meadow, A. M., Ferguson, D. B., Guido, Z., Horangic, A., Owen, G., & Wall, T. (2015). Moving toward the deliberate coproduction of climate science knowledge. Weather, Climate, and Society, 7(2), 179-191.

Roesch-McNally, G.R. and H. Prendeville. (2017). Making Sense of Coproduction: What is it Good For? Northwest Climate Hub, Corvallis, OR. Available online:

Roncoli, Carla, et al. (2006.) Understanding Farming Decisions and Potential Applications of Climate Forecasts in South Georgia. Southeast Climate Consortium,

Author Information:

Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, PhD
USDA Northwest Climate Hub
3200 SW Jefferson Way
Corvallis, OR 97331

Drought and small revenues – do they always go hand in hand?

By Sonia A. Hall

The conditions the Northwest experienced in 2015 have received a lot of attention, because we saw drought even though precipitation was close to normal. So the drought was due to higher temperatures, which meant snow didn’t accumulate anywhere near as much as it does on average. With less water available for irrigation in summer (see our earlier articles on the 2015 drought here and here), we’d expected irrigated crops to suffer, and we’d also expect growers’ bottom line to suffer.

Drought (and other stresses) can have a significant impact on crop production—see this comparison of the size of an ear of corn in Missouri during the 2012 drought to its “normal” size (space between hands). The expectation is that decreases in production will lead to drops in revenue, but is that always the case? Photo: Malory Ensor/KOMU News under CC BY 2.0

But when the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Annual Statistical Bulletin for Washington State came out in October 2016, it was followed by an article in Capital Press discussing the apparent paradox that agricultural production values hit record highs in 2015, even though the region was under that newsworthy “snow drought.” Though I did not personally fact-check the Capital Press article, it’s an intriguing paradox. A presentation I heard at the recent (January 2017) Climate Impacts to Water Conference provided some insights. Ballav Aryal, a graduate student in the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University, presented research that highlighted two factors that might explain this apparent paradox.

Factor number one: price elasticities. What’s that? Say, for example, that wheat production is very low this year. If there’s nothing consumers can really replace it with, the wheat that’s available becomes very valuable, and its price will likely go up significantly. That’s what economists call an inelastic demand. If, on the other hand, consumers could just shift to eating oats or corn instead, then that wheat would not be as critically valuable, and its price might not increase much at all. That’s an elastic demand.

Figure 1. The price is set where demand (D line) meets the supply line (S1 and S2 show two different production situations). If wheat production is low this year (S2 line, rather than the normal S1 line), prices will rise more if demand is inelastic (left panel – compare P2 to P1) than if demand is inelastic (right panel – compare P2 to P1). Figure courtesy of Ballav Aryal, Washington State University, modified with permission.

Price elasticity is a factor that growers have little control over. But if the crops that are impacted by drought (and so have lower production) also happen to have inelastic demands, then their prices might increase significantly when production is slow. Those increases in the price might more than make up for the decreased production. That is, total agricultural revenue could increase even if the amount produced decreases.

It’s also worth noting that price increases could also be responding to economic factors in other regions of the world producing the same crops or other substitute crops, or to policy shifts, or to consumer preferences. But the bottom line remains: if the price moves in the opposite direction to the amount produced and the demand of the crop is inelastic, it could compensate for the drought-driven low production, leading to high revenues even in drought years.

Factor number two: water allocation. In contrast to the price factor, water allocation may be a factor that growers can control, at least to some extent. This of course is focused on irrigated crops. If in any given year growers apply their available water to an array of different crops, when their water availability is curtailed due to drought they will make decisions on what crops to favor with the water they do have. If they are able to direct their water to those crops of highest value, then their revenue will suffer less (maybe much less) than if they can’t and irrigation water to all of their crops is reduced about equally. Water leasing or otherwise trading water among producers—or even irrigation districts—can have the same effect on the overall collective value of a region’s production in a drought year (see the 2016 Columbia River Forecast for more on this). This factor also argues for a diversity of crops across the region, as having a variety of crops acts as a hedge against drought risk.

So let’s come back to Washington and the 2015 drought. Aryal’s presentation was based on research across nine western states (though it did not include Colorado or California). To really test how important each of these two factors were in Washington in 2015—that is, do they explain Capital Press’s puzzle?—you’d need comprehensive data on the 300-plus crops grown in Washington State, plus specifics on growers’ water allocation decisions. Such data are very hard to come by. However, if such data could be collected and analyzed, we could explore to what extent demand elasticities (which, remember, are outside growers’ control) and water allocation decisions (somewhat within growers’ control) load the dice towards revenues not diving hand in hand with decreased production due to drought. If the strength of the ties between drought-driven decreases in production and in overall revenue is mostly within our control—as a grower, an irrigation district, or as policy makers in the state—we would be able to better prepare for what future climate will bring: more frequent droughts. Of course, that also means that the onus would then be on us to actually prepare. But that’s still the best-case scenario, don’t you think?


Hall, S.A., J.C. Adam, M. Barik, J. Yoder, M.P. Brady, D. Haller, M.E. Barber, C.E. Kruger, G.G. Yorgey, M. Downes, C.O. Stockle, B. Aryal, T. Carlson, G. Damiano, S. Dhungel, C. Einberger, K. Hamel-Reiken, M. Liu, K. Malek, S. McClure, R. Nelson, M. O’Brien, J. Padowski, K. Rajagopalan, Z. Rakib, B. Rushi, W. Valdez. 2016. 2016 Washington State Legislative Report. Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast. Publication No. 16-12-001. Washington Department of Ecology, Olympia, WA. 216 pp. Available online at:


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


NW Climate Conference call for abstracts now open!

Tacoma Convention Center, Photo by

Call for Abstracts now open!

The Eighth Annual Northwest Climate Conference
Working Together to Build a Resilient Northwest

October 10-11, 2017
Tacoma Convention Center | Tacoma, WA

We are pleased to announce the call for abstracts for the 8th Annual Northwest Climate Conference – Working Together to Build a Resilient Northwest. We invite you and your colleagues to submit abstracts for special sessions, oral presentations, and posters. The due date for abstracts is Monday, June 12, 2017. Continue reading

Exploring Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Agriculture in the Northwest

By Liz Allen

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”. Continue reading

Could the Northwest become an increasingly important dairy-producing region as climate change unfolds?

By Liz Allen

Dairy cows of Tillamook County, Oregon. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, CC BY NC 2.0.

In a previous article I explored how climate change in California’s wine country—coupled with shifting temperature and precipitation patterns in Oregon and Washington—may catalyze new opportunities for winegrape production in the Northwest. I also suggested that these opportunities might be accompanied by an increase in locally produced cheeses due to growth in the region’s dairy industry. In this article, I’ll discuss research indicating that during the 21st century, climate change impacts could lead to more favorable conditions for milk production in the Northwest relative to other current dairy centers of the U.S. In 2016, Idaho, Washington and Oregon produced roughly 11% of the nation’s milk. It is conceivable that this percentage could increase substantially in coming decades. Continue reading

Let the worms do the work – Critters help dairies manage manure

By: Sonia A. Hall

Got milk? Dairies are in the milk business, but must also manage manure produced along the way, and the potentially useful nutrients it holds. Photo: NRCS in Oregon under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Managing manure is a big part of what goes on at the “back end” of a dairy. Doing it well is important to avoid impacts on surrounding neighbors due to odors, impacts on air and water quality, or the release of unnecessary amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane or nitrous oxides (which, by the way, are respectively 28 and 265 times more powerful as global warming “blankets” than carbon dioxide). There are multiple technologies being developed, tested, and used to improve manure management in dairies. These include anaerobic digestion, which produces bioenergy and helps reduce odors (we provided an overview about a year ago in this article). Nutrient recovery technologies are another aspect being studied. These are an array of different technologies that allow us to collect the potentially useful nitrogen and phosphorus found in manure, so it can be used productively rather than contributing to climate change or other issues. Continue reading

Designing climate tools to be used – what does the ag industry need?

By: Dominique Bachelet

As a climate change scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute (CBI), I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to deliver climate projections and climate impacts data in a useful manner. This is a challenging part of my job, because I do not make decisions on managing natural resources, so I am not necessarily the best person to determine how climate research might inform such decisions. For practitioners whose day-to-day work is managing natural resources—forests, fisheries, endangered species and their habitats, for example—thinking about future climate and potential climate impacts is challenging in a different way. Practitioners have limited time and funding to digest and incorporate this material into their plans, strategies, and actions. I expect agricultural professionals face a similar challenge, so there’s an opportunity to share ideas on how to develop effective climate-related decision-support tools.

Natural resource managers participated in workshops to provide input on what information and tools would be most useful to them. Lakeview, OR. Photo: Dominique Bachelet.

Continue reading

Adapting to a Changing Climate while Conserving Water and Growing Tastier Tomatoes

By Amy Garrett

Dry farmed crops grown by the Dry Farming Collaborative. Photos by Amy Garrett.

The Dry Farming Collaborative (DFC) brings together farmers interested in pursuing alternatives to irrigated agriculture for a variety of specialty crops including: tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash, zucchini, melons, dry beans, and corn.  Growers throughout western Oregon, Washington, and northern California, increasingly affected by climate change, farm lands without water rights, or with limited water availability. Some have water rights but are interested in conserving resources (time, energy, water, etc.) and producing tastier (and sometimes longer storing) produce for their markets . Continue reading

2017 Northwest Climate Conference in Tacoma – Oct 10-11, 2017

WA Dept of Ecology oblique shoreline photo archive, photo ID number 000924_114848, courtesy of Snohomish County.

Join us in Tacoma this October for the 8th Annual Northwest Climate Conference! The Northwest Climate Conference annually brings together more than 300 researchers and practitioners from around the region to discuss scientific results, challenges, and solutions related to the impacts of climate on people, natural resources, and infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest.  

The conference is the region’s premier opportunity for a cross-disciplinary exchange of knowledge and ideas about regional climate, climate impacts, and climate adaptation science and practice. The conference also provides a forum for presenting emerging policy and management goals, objectives, and information needs related to regional climate impacts and adaptation. Participants include policy- and decision-makers, resource managers, and scientists from academia; federal, state, and local agencies; sovereign tribal nations; non-governmental organizations; and the private sector.

Details regarding abstract submission, registration, and other program news will be added to the conference website in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please contact Lara Whitely Binder ( with any questions or for information on sponsorship opportunities.


Spring is Coming! Reflections on Growing the AgClimate Network

By: Brooke Saari

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow” ~ Proverb from Guinea

Spring in the Pacific Northwest. Top Left: Skagit Valley Tulips, courtesy of Brooke Saari; Top Right: Apple Tree in bloom, courtesy Washington State University; Bottom Left: Cherry Orchard in The Dalles, courtesy of Oregon State University and Jan Sonnenmair Photography, Flickr CC 2.0; Bottom Right: Spring Daffodils, courtesy Brent M., Flickr CC 2.0.

Winter is in its final stages and spring is knocking on our door. As a Florida native living in Washington, I for one am ready for some sunshine, flowers and warmth! While I dream of that glorious spring, I’d like to reflect on what an impressive year of growth the Agriculture Climate Network experienced in 2016, and what we are shooting for over the next year. Continue reading