Oregon State University has been named a partner on a $20 million grant to ensure the long-term viability of cereal-based farming in the inland Pacific Northwest amid a changing climate.

OSU will receive $4 million of the total award, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today in Washington, D.C. The other participants are the University of Idaho, Washington State University and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

The five-year grant will take a holistic approach to study the relationship between climate change and cereal crops, primarily winter wheat. Researchers will study how climate change might affect cereal crops; how production practices might contribute to or help curb climate change; what farming methods might help these crops withstand climate change; and which factors influence decisions about crop management.

"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," said Sonny Ramaswamy, the dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Susan Capalbo, an OSU agricultural economist and one of the researchers, added, "This research is important because our climate is changing, and agriculture is probably the sector that is most affected by variations in climate."

It's also a sector important to Oregon's economy. Oregon farmers and ranchers grossed $4.3 billion in sales last year, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. About $354 million of that was in wheat. In terms of tonnage, wheat is the No. 1 export through the Port of Portland, which officials say is the largest volume wheat-export harbor in the United States.

The study will focus on northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington and Idaho's panhandle. It includes the cities of Pendleton in Oregon; Pullman and Othello in Washington; and Moscow, Idaho. The area produces some of the nation's highest yields of non-irrigated winter wheat.

Researchers will use a computer model to study how different farming techniques affect yields, water usage, nutrient levels, greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of carbon dioxide from the air. These techniques could include rotating crops, seeding without tilling, leaving crop residue on fields, diversifying crop choices, and applying organic fertilizer such as manure.

The work will take place at eight research facilities throughout the region as well as on private farms. In Oregon, tests will be carried out at OSU's Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center, which has research farms near Moro and Pendleton. OSU agronomists Steve Petrie and Stephen Machado will experiment with various methods for managing crops, and examine how much carbon dioxide is sequestered when these methods are used and when the land lies fallow. They'll also investigate whether techniques for applying fertilizer can be changed to reduce the release of greenhouse gases.