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Category: Climate Change

Secretary’s Column: Helping America’s Farmers Rise to the Challenge of Climate Change

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.

Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. Read more »

Our Changing Climate – Third National Climate Assessment Released

Mississippi River flooding in 2011. The Third National Assessment of climate, released today found that climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past forty years and are projected to increase over the next twenty five years. Photo Credit: Lance Cheung, USDA OC

Mississippi River flooding in 2011. The Third National Climate Assessment, released today found that climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past forty years and are projected to increase over the next twenty five years. Photo Credit: Lance Cheung, USDA OC

The Third National Climate Assessment Release (NCA) report was released today.  The report was written by 240 authors who worked in author teams reflecting their expertise, who also selected additional contributing authors, including several scientists and experts from USDA.

The report is similar in many respects to previous climate assessments.  The authors conclude that climate change is already happening across the United States. The report documents ways climate change is altering agriculture and forestry systems across the country and evaluates how these systems are likely to be affected in the future.

The authors found that climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past forty years and are projected to increase over the next twenty five years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock. Read more »

Everybody Talks About the Weather…

A member of the Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew, Department of the Interior (DOI) Indian Affairs (IA) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) San Carlos Agency in Arizona; on assignment. The combined effects of droughts and insects may lead to a pulse of tree mortality that increases the potential for intense fires. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

A member of the Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew, Department of the Interior (DOI) Indian Affairs (IA) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) San Carlos Agency in Arizona; on assignment. The combined effects of droughts and insects may lead to a pulse of tree mortality that increases the potential for intense fires. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

The climate statistics for the first month of 2014 have been impressive. Extreme weather has lashed the United States from Alaska to Florida with record warmth, cold, dry and wet conditions all at the same time. The National Climatic Data Center reports that January of 2014 was the driest January on record for New Mexico, 2nd driest for Arizona and 3rd driest for California. January 2014 was also in the top ten of coldest Januaries on record for much of the upper Midwest.

Extreme drought conditions in the western U.S. are dramatically impacting water supplies critical to agriculture and elevating fire risk across our National Forests. Across the continent frequent cold waves have repeatedly threatened winter crops across the Southeast while frost depths reaching several feet will impact springtime planting across the Midwest. This kind of winter gets everyone talking about the weather.  It brings to mind the quote “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” often attributed to Mark Twain (but apparently said by a friend). Read more »

Interactive Online Tool Teaches Users About Climate Change

Screenshot of the climate change science and modeling education module explaining the greenhouse gas effect. Without the natural greenhouse gas effect, the average temperature of the planet would be about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Screenshot of the climate change science and modeling education module explaining the greenhouse gas effect. Without the natural greenhouse gas effect, the average temperature of the planet would be about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

As we celebrate Earth Day and think about ways to protect our environment, we cannot ignore the dramatic effects that climate change is having on our planet.

To help the U.S. Forest Service respond to a changing climate, the Climate Change Resource Center, an online portal to credible, relevant and timely information focused on forest management responses to climate change, recently released a new education resource on basic climate change science and climate modeling. Read more »

Conservation Grant Helps Rice Growers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A California farmer harvests his rice field.  Photo by Robert Parkhurst, Environmental Defense Fund (used with permission).

A California farmer harvests his rice field. Photo by Robert Parkhurst, Environmental Defense Fund (used with permission).

Note: Three projects funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant were recently honored by the American Carbon Registry for innovative approaches to environmental stewardship. The winners included Ducks Unlimited, Delta Institute and Terra Global Capital. Ducks Unlimited’s work aimed to generate a carbon credit system for North Dakota landowners, which not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also restores wetlands and grasslands that are crucial to waterfowl. Delta Institute is working with farmers to reduce use of nitrogen – one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Terra Global Capital and many others partners are working on a credit system for rice growers in California and the Midsouth. The below post provides more information on this project.

USDA is helping to provide rice growers in California and the Midsouth with new opportunities to voluntarily execute conservation practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while cultivating a new income stream.

The California and Midsouth rice projects are funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is providing more than $1 million to help identify and develop new conservation methods. The grant also leverages new and emerging ecosystem income for landowners while addressing climate change. Read more »

World Water Day: Reflecting on the Importance of Water to the World

I care deeply about conserving our land, soil and water and know that farmers are incredible stewards of the land. Prior to coming to USDA, I served as CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts.  I know firsthand that improving water conservation requires innovative technologies and partnerships.

In honor of World Water Day, I spoke to the U.S. Water Partnership on the critical role conservation plays in agriculture. According to the 2012 National Intelligence Community Assessment, about 70 percent of the global fresh water supply is devoted to agriculture. USDA and its partners play an important role in ensuring that producers have the water resources necessary to produce the food, fuel and fiber needed by Americans and our trading partners around the world. It’s an important part of our mission. Read more »