Public Release: 

Recipe for success

$20 million USDA grant focuses on agriculture and climate change

University of Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho - Thanks to a major investment announced today by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the University of Idaho will lead research to better understand and plan for a changing climate in the Pacific Northwest.

The five-year, $20 million USDA award will fund the work of a research team led by University of Idaho entomologist Sanford Eigenbrode. His team includes researchers from Idaho, Washington State University and Oregon State University, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The team will study impacts of climate change on Northwest wheat and barley production.

"The University of Idaho is committed to work that serves our state and our region," said M. Duane Nellis, president of the University of Idaho. "As the lead institution for this vital climate research, we welcome the USDA's investment in work that will study not just the effect of climate change on agriculture - a key industry in the region - but also will help us innovate and advance agricultural production and education for the future. This work will truly be a model that defines the power of collaborative research to transform our region and enables our knowledge and discoveries to better serve the global community."

Eigenbrode and the team will focus on cereal production systems of the inland Pacific Northwest and their management under projected climate change scenarios for the region.

"The task is enormous and complex, but we have the resources to proceed and the validation of our peers our concept and approach," said Eigenbrode, a member of the Idaho's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences since 1985. "We are energized, galvanized, organized and ready to go to work."

Sales of cereals totaled more than $1.5 billion in 2009, as the Northwest grew 13 percent of the nation's wheat and 80 percent of the country's soft white wheat exports. Some predictions indicate that changing temperatures and precipitation will affect the Northwest and other prime wheat regions.

The project grew from a collaborative research project launched nearly four decades ago to reduce soil erosion in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. That effort, called STEEP - Solutions to Environmental and Economic Problems - coalesced as a cooperative effort by the three states in 1975.

"This new project will draw on the STEEP program, which cut soil erosion by 75 percent, and helped farmers make their practices more sustainable to assure the future of Northwest agriculture," said John Hammel, Idaho agricultural and life sciences dean.

Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said the project is unique in several important ways. "It is interdisciplinary and inter-institutional, but it is also unique in the sheer magnitude of funding and scope. This larger, integrated, coordinated effort truly has the potential to be transformational for wheat and barley producers in our region."

Sonny Ramasway, dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, agreed. "As a result of this project, the people who produce our food will be better equipped to reduce their carbon footprint and to face the challenges associated with climate change," he said.

Research and Extension centers operated by the three universities' agricultural colleges are poised to play key roles in the USDA-funded project. The stations already have long-term agricultural research in progress that will expand the benefits of the new effort.

"This new project advances the Northwest's leadership in understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change on agricultural production," said Jack McIver, University of Idaho vice president for research and economic development. "It reflects both the quality of the region's research and its decades of collaboration. The University of Idaho is proud to partner with our land-grant peers and to use science to address critical issues."

Howard Grimes, vice president for research at WSU, praised the project for "anticipating and proactively developing solutions for a future challenge. Once completed, this work will give wheat and barley growers the tools they need to evaluate and adapt to climate change as the change occurs."

Eigenbrode will lead a team that includes 22 principal investigators, 14 graduate students, three post-graduate researchers, and several technical and administrative staff. They will create a region-wide research, outreach and education network to address the complex issues raised by changing climate.

The team's areas of expertise will include agronomy, climate and atmospheric science, entomology, plant science, weed science, sociology, soil science, ecology, agricultural economics, education, Extension and information science.

In the long-term, the vision for the project is to create a comprehensive and extensive infrastructure to support research, outreach and education that will support agriculture sustainability in the region during the project's funded five-year term and beyond, said Eigenbrode.


More information is available online:

About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state's land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit

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