Agroclimate Science

Ensuring Sustainable, Adaptive Agro-Ecosystems

UNDER THE AGROCLIMATE SCIENCE EMPHASIS AREA, NIFA supports the development of sustainable agriculture and forestry-based strategies to mitigate the effects of climate variability and change. These strategies include the development of selective breeding of crops and livestock, agronomic and animal husbandry practices, help producers reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and maximize carbon sequestration. The programs seek to:

  • Identify new production practices that increase soil carbon while reducing GHG emissions;
  • Reduce energy, nitrogen, carbon, and water footprints in agricultural production systems;
  • Translate genomics research and resulting technologies to the agricultural and forestry production sector to adapt to climate variability;
  • Develop and implement new nitrogen fertilizer recommendations that optimize yields while reducing GHG emissions; and
  • Improve agricultural and forest sector inputs to climate change models.
Map Identifies, Targets Problem Locations



Harmful algal blooms (HAB) can harm the health of the environment, plants, and animals by depleting oxygen from water and blocking the sunlight that other marine organisms need to live. Some HAB also release toxins that can be dangerous to animals and humans. NIFA's support of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) helps track how airborne nitrogen is deposited in the United States and how it affects the environment. NADP maps indicate how nitrogen deposition in the United States can enter the Mississippi River, travel south, and threaten aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico. A 5,300-square-mile hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf is an example of the danger caused by too much nitrogen. The map gives policymakers, scientists, and others a clear view of nitrogen hot spots so they can develop and implement plans of action to reduce hypoxia and the size of the hypoxic zone.


NIFA announced July 2016 the availability of an $8.4 million grant to study and develop new approaches for the agriculture sector to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. One seminal hallmark of the program will be the development of Climate Masters, a cadre of community-based volunteers who will develop  the requisite knowledge to help their communities better adapt to and become resilient to climate variability.


Research-based tools are readily available to document current and projected climate variability impacts, but students sometimes have difficulty interpreting the data or understanding its urgency. The “G-WOW” Changing Climate, Changing Culture initiative from University of Wisconsin Extension, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service changed the way educators talk about climate variability by creating a model that integrates culturally-relevant evidence of climate variability with climate science. The project is building educational partnerships with tribes and native people. More than 1,100 people have participated in G-WOW, including 196 students participating in follow-up G-WOW Coastal Climate Camp field experiences.


A five-year, NIFA-funded Dairy CAP is putting the U.S. dairy industry on target to reduce its GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2020. The University of Wisconsin is leading a team of 50 researchers who are examining all facets of dairy production to meet the goal by considering feed efficiency and feed production, manure processing and energy use, economic aspects of manure handling, nutrient use, water use, and soil quality. The researchers are developing computer models to identify where farm emissions are the greatest. By integrating process models with climate models, scientists will be able to recommend new management practices to reduce GHG.


Reduced snowpack and rainfall, combined with urban and industrial expansion, is increasing demand for a dwindling supply of water for American Indian communities in the Great Basin Desert and arid lands of the American Southwest. University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), with support from a $1.5 million AFRI grant, is leading a team of researchers and extension professions who are working with tribal communities Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico to develop and implement reservation-wide plans, policies, and practices to support sustainable agriculture and water management. The team created a 5-year work plan and characterized tribal agricultural production, traditional agricultural practices, and data related to land base and tribal water rights, income, employment, and demographics.