Given the challenges noted in the previous section, it is clear that expanded research efforts will be needed to help farmers, development planners, and others engaged in the agricultural sector to understand and respond to projected impacts of climate change on agriculture. There may also be opportunities to limit the magnitude of future climate change though changes in agricultural practices; it will be important to link such strategies with adaptation strategies so they complement rather than undermine each other. Identifying which regions, human communities, fisheries, and crops and livestock in the United States and other parts of the world are most vulnerable to climate change, developing adaptation approaches to reduce this vulnerability, and developing and assessing options for reducing agricultural GHG emissions are critical tasks for the nation’s climate change research program. Focus is also needed on the developing world, where the negative effects of climate change on agricultural and fisheries production tend to coincide with people with low adaptation capacity. Some specific research areas are listed below.
Improve models of crop response to climate and other environmental changes. Crop plants and timber species respond to multiple and interacting effects—including temperature, moisture, extreme weather events, CO2, ozone, and other factors such as pests, diseases, and weeds—all of which are affected by climate change. Experimental studies that evaluate the sensitivity of crops to such factors, singly and in interaction, are needed, especially in ecosystem-scale experiments and in environments where temperature is already close to optimal for crops. Many assessments model crop response to climate-related variables while assuming no change in availability of water resources, especially irrigation. Projections about agricultural success in the future need to explicitly include such interactions. Of particular concern are assumptions about water availability that include consideration of needs by other sectors. The reliability of water resources for agriculture when there is competition from other uses needs to be evaluated in the context of coupled human-environment systems, ideally at regional scales. Improved understanding of the response of farmers and markets to production and prices and also to policies and institutions that affect land and resource uses is needed; incorporation of that information in models will aid in designing effective agricultural strategies for limiting and adapting to climate change.
Improve models of response of fisheries to climate change. Sustainable yields from fisheries require matching catch limits with the growth of the fishery. Climate variation already makes forecasting the growth of fish populations difficult, and future climate change will increase this critical uncertainty. Studies of connections between