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"Despite a rebuke earlier this month from the House of Representatives, USDA continues to emphasize research on how farmers and livestock producers can deal with extensive production challenges stemming from climate change. Thursday, USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture will announce 24 grants totaling $56 million to study ways agriculture and forestry can adapt to climate change and take advantage of variable climate patterns. The projects were selected from 113 research proposals pitched to NIFA by research institutions from across the country. The grants, which are funded through USDA's 2010 budget, come two weeks after the House of Representatives passed an amendment to USDA's 2012 budget that would block the department from spending money for agencies to incorporate climate adaptation into their programs. That measure, if it remains in USDA's appropriations, would not affect the grants announced Thursday. That same appropriations bill also cuts NIFA's budget $354 million from current spending levels, which means it may be harder over the next year or two to fund other climate change related research. USDA officials do recognize the political difficulties on Capitol Hill when it comes to climate change, but research on climate change and food production needs to continue, said Roger Beachy, NIFA's former director, who spoke at a biotechnology conference Wednesday in Washington. Beachy said agriculture will have to adapt to climate change or variability regardless of whether lawmakers want to acknowledge the problem exists. "No matter how you phrase it, the issue is we now have more unpredictable weather patterns than we have had in a long, long time," Beachy said at the 2011 BIO International Convention. "As a consequence now we will have more droughts and more floods and more challenges to agriculture and the farmer needs to prepare for that variability. Whether we call it climate change or disruptive weather patterns or climate, you have to be ready for it." Even with votes trying to stop USDA from working on climate adaptation, Beachy said policymakers have recognized that farmers will need to prepare for more intense droughts or floods such as those we've seen this year."

Posted June 30th, 2011