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Critical Research Needs for Successful Food Systems Adaptation to Climate Change

by Michelle Miller,a,* Molly Anderson,b Charles A. Francis,c Chad Kruger,d Carol Barford,e Jacob Park,f and Brent H. McCown g

http://dx.doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2013.034.016, pp. 161–175

Published online September 4, 2013



There is a growing sense of the fragility of agricultural production in the Global North and South and of increasing risks to food security, as scientific observations confirm significant changes in the Gulf Stream, polar ice, atmospheric CO2, methane release, and other measures of climate change. This sense is heightened as each of us experiences extreme weather, such as the increasing frequency of droughts, floods, unseasonal temperatures, and erratic seasonality. The central research challenge before us is how global, national, regional, and local food systems may adapt to accelerating climate change stresses and uncertainties to ensure the availability, access, consumption, and stability of healthy food for and by all people. Missing aspects of research fall into two broad categories: the impacts of rapid climate change on the environmental systems supporting food production, and climate change's impact on the predominantly human systems that influence food security. Of particular concern is how different policy and governance mechanisms can support or hinder the collective decision-making needed to promote a swift adaptive response to increase and sustain food security. Human systems research is needed to investigate food system activities beyond production (processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management). It also must consider political, cultural, and regulatory factors that influence behavior and facilitate positive behavioral changes. To accurately envision future scenarios, research is needed to characterize risk comprehensively throughout the food system, assess barriers to and opportunities for changing food systems, and evaluate novel and traditional approaches that may lead to greater food security.


Keywordsadaptation, climate change, farming, food security, food supply chain, food systems, resilience


a,* Corresponding author: Michelle Miller, Associate Director, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin, 1535 Observatory Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706 USA; +1-608-262-7135; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

b Molly Anderson, Partridge Chair in Food & Sustainable Agriculture Systems, College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609 USA

c Charles Francis, Professor, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska 68583-0915 USA; and Visiting Professor of Agroecology, Institute of Plant and Soil Science (IPM), P.O. Box 5003, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB), N-1432 Aas, Norway

d Chad Kruger, Director, WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources, 1100 North Western Avenue, Wenatchee, Washington 98801 USA

e Carol Barford, Director, Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1710 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53726 USA

f Jacob Park, Green Mountain College, with support from the University of Vermont's Research on Adaptation to Climate Change Program. One Brennan Circle, Poultney, Vermont 05764 USA

g Brent H. McCown, Professor Emeritus, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706 USA



Banner photos include a Cape Cod cranberry bog; a cranberry “screen house” used to grade fresh cranberries; farmland near Lake Placid, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains; Montmorency cherry trees on the Mission Peninsula of northern Michigan; the historic Round Barn in the South Mountain Apple Belt of Adams County, Pennsylvania; the “Sea of Grapes” district of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, near Erie, Penn; a field of cabbages near Shortsville, NY, home to one of the world’s largest sauerkraut factories. All photos copyright by Duncan Hilchey.


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