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USDA Research Prepares Farmers for Change

NIFA-funded grad student checks soil moisture gauge.

NIFA-funded grad student checks soil moisture gauge.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research profile.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen a lot of variability in the weather, with severe droughts in some places, excessive flooding in others, and more extreme weather events all over the country.  While there has always been variability in the weather, scientists predict increasing variability in weather patterns as the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) increases in the atmosphere. Such changes present challenges for farmers, who, in many areas, are trying to grow crops under hotter, drier climate regimes and must protect their crops from damage during extreme weather events.  That’s why the USDA is actively doing research on how to produce crops and livestock through increasing climate variability, and that’s why the fourth in a series of Office of the Chief Scientist white papers on the Department’s research portfolio is focused on what USDA science is doing to help prepare the agency, and the nation’s farmers for a changing climate.

In this white paper, the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) agencies have outlined four main strategies for helping to prepare the nation’s producers for climate change.  The strategies are to (1) explain the processes driving the direct and indirect effects of climate change on natural and managed ecosystems; (2) develop the knowledge and tools to help adapt agriculture and forestry to climate; (3) develop the knowledge and tools to help mitigate atmospheric GHG emissions through reductions in gross GHG emissions and increases in carbon sequestration; and (4) support decisions at local, regional, and national levels with  information and techniques provided by USDA science.

USDA research has already come a long way towards helping farmers adapt to climate change.  For example, NIFA and ARS scientists are investigating varieties of every major crop and many specialty crops in the U.S. to find genes that confer drought tolerance and disease resistance.  They are investigating animal varieties to find heat-resistant breeds chicken and cattle, or ways to manage manure so as to lessen methane emissions.  Research is also showing how different nutrient formulations and management techniques are affecting carbon sequestration and water use. And research done through ERS and NASS is helping to analyze the effects of climate policies in the farm sector, and helping to predict what the consequences of climate change will be for farmers in different regions of the U.S.  Finally, as all this research is produced, extension agents across the U.S. are taking it and translating it into usable information for farmers, ranchers and the public. So whatever kinds of variability in weather and environment that the future may hold, be it northward spread of pests, or decreasing rainfall across the Great Plains, USDA is making sure that our agriculture continues to be strong, resilient, and ready to feed the nation and the world.

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