Corn shows the affect of drought in Texas on Aug. 20, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.
I am a research scientist, by nature, training, and now more than 30 years of experience. I hold degrees in Physics, Atmospheric Sciences, Meteorology, and have done research in many sub-specialties of the last two, including climate science. My curiosity about the natural world never slows down, and I am not intimidated by difficult problems. But the research I’ve been doing since 1999 has been the most challenging: how do we transform what we know about weather, weather variability, climate, and climate change into practical advice for farmers and ranchers? This is not just one problem in my mind, but three. Three huge gnarly problems, each close to intractable. But these new USDA Climate Hubs are an opportunity to make progress on all three. What follows are thumbnails of the three problems I have in mind, and then briefly how I see the Climate Hubs providing a handle on them. Read more »
Flooding and water damage in the Park and Tongue River Watersheds located in Cavalier, Pembina and Cavalaier Counties in North Dakota on Thursday, May 23, 2013. USDA photo by Keith Weston.
Weather dominates the conversation at local coffee shops and community gathering locations across the Northern Plains. Depending on the time of the year, I’ve heard things like this:
“We sure could use rain – really dry out there. Cattle are going to have to come off the pastures soon.”
“Hoping the rain will break here for a few days so I can get the hay cut without it getting rained on this time.” Read more »
Producers endure the weather across the Midwest and wonder if it will be too wet to plant, too wet to harvest, too wet to spray, or if the rain will come at the right time to produce a bumper or just an average crop. In all of the presentations I have given on climate and agriculture across the Midwest, during the last year the prevailing question has been about whether the increasing variation in precipitation and temperature we’re experiencing is the “new” normal during the growing season. Producers point to the last four growing seasons as examples of the variation they face each year: 2010 was hot and wet during the grain-filling stage of growth causing the crops to mature more quickly, 2011 was almost normal with some dry periods during the last part of the growing season, 2012 was a drought year, and 2013 experienced two different extremes. In 2013, it was wet in the early growing season, delaying and in some places preventing planting, followed by a dry summer. Across the Midwest, the early spring rains are increasing erosion from fields. Producers are now asking what they can do to protect their natural resources and the crops that depend on them, and what the next season will be like. If these extremes continue, how do they adapt their farming operations? Read more »
America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners face a complex and ever-changing threat in the form of a changing and shifting climate. The past three years alone have brought some of the most severe and devastating floods, droughts and fires our nation has experienced in recent history.
While no individual event can be linked to climate change, extreme weather conditions are increasingly impacting our farmers, ranchers and forest owners, to the detriment of their bottom lines, our food supply, and the future security of our farm economy.
We need a strategy that strengthens agriculture’s response to the impacts of a changing and shifting climate. Our farmers and ranchers need new and better tools to respond and prepare for the challenges of drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons and changes in pest pressure. Read more »
In the 151 years since the U.S. Department of Agriculture was founded, America’s oldest industry has evolved to meet the changing needs of our modern agricultural landscape. From growing overseas markets, building a 21st century rural infrastructure, and finding ways to address the challenges of climate change, USDA has worked beside farmers, businesses, and community leaders to streamline programs and spur innovative solutions for today’s challenges.
For USDA, that also means looking inward and changing the way we do business. We have done this by designing initiatives that collectively utilize the full scope of our mission, better focusing resources and staff across the Department to meet the needs of the communities we serve using modern tools, technology, and processes.
USDA’s recently expanded StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative illustrates this trend with a broad commitment to rally available tools and technical assistance to combat persistent poverty in rural communities in 20 states.
Our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative aims to support the rapidly expanding local and regional food market with new products and services, as well as tailored cross-agency web resources and data that illustrate opportunities and promote local and regional food systems.
And finally, through the Blueprint for Stronger Service, USDA responded to the uncertain fiscal environment by streamlining mission critical work and taking a close look at operations to find ways to cut costs and modernize processes to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars – with great results.
Over the next month we’ll share more about the ways that USDA has evolved to meet the needs of modern agriculture in America. We’ll use hashtag #AgInnovates on social media to share these stories, but we want to hear from you too. In the video above, Secretary Vilsack asked you to lend your voice to our collective story of how YOUR community has evolved to meet the needs of the 21st century. A new hospital? Technology enhanced planning, harvest, or conservation practices? A better transportation infrastructure? Education programs to meet the needs of today’s high tech ag sector?
Use #AgInnovates to let us know. We can’t wait to hear from you.
The NASA Hyperwall, a huge monitor connected to the agency’s climate super computer will be used in assessing data from the GPM Core Observatory. (U.S. Forest Service/Robert Hudson Westover)
Understanding the effects of global climate change, especially the amount of precipitation contained in clouds, has been limited by the use of decades-old satellite technology. But now a soon-to-be launched NASA satellite, the GPM Core Observatory, will literally add another dimension to seeing into the complexity of clouds and the precipitation they may or may not contain.
“The new GPM satellite will give scientists much clearer and more concise data on rainfall estimates with more continuous areal coverage giving us a three-dimensional visual understanding of the effects climate change is having on the planet as far precipitation is concerned,” said Dave Cleaves, the Forest Service’s Climate Change Advisor. Read more »