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Category: Climate Change

Southwestern Climate Hub Helps Producers Cope with an Uncertain and Changing Climate

The Thompson Ridge Fire in the Sante Fe National Forest approximately 10 miles north of Jemez, NM consumed over 29,903 acres. Photo by Valess Calera Trust Kristin Honig.

The Thompson Ridge Fire in the Sante Fe National Forest approximately 10 miles north of Jemez, NM consumed over 29,903 acres. Photo by Valess Calera Trust Kristin Honig.

Those of us living and working in the Southwestern U.S. have recently experienced a prolonged, extreme drought persisting over several years. We have witnessed large, destructive and catastrophic wildfires that have taken both lives and property, observed expansive areas of forest tree death as a result of massive insect outbreaks, and seen our water supplies in reservoirs and dams across the region decline to previously unseen levels. Yet, what can we realistically do in the face of these climatically driven changes that will likely continue and intensify into the future?

Changing climatic conditions in the southwest that impact temperatures, alter growing seasons, increase plant moisture stress, and trigger extreme events directly contribute to these recent regional catastrophes and water scarcities.  Recently, a highly respected, third generation public land cattle rancher in our region put it this way: “I believe that the climate is changing.  But I can’t accept it.  If I do I would just go out of business.  I have to cope and go on.”  So we are left to look around us and ask what information, tools, and technology can we reach for when it gets tough? Read more »

“Voices from the Land” Conservation in American Agriculture Briefing Highlights Environmental Award Winners

USDA Deputy Undersecretary Ann Mills (ninth from left) visits with Leopold Conservation Award winners at USDA last week. USDA photo.

USDA Deputy Undersecretary Ann Mills (ninth from left) visits with Leopold Conservation Award winners at USDA last week. USDA photo.

“Water conservation begins where the first drop of rain falls…most likely on private working lands.” This is a favorite saying of Tom Vandivier, a Texas cattle rancher and 2008 recipient of the Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award (LCA).

Tom was one of more than two dozen recipients of the LCA – which recognized landowners for achievement in environmental improvement on agricultural land – in Washington, D.C. last week.  I was fortunate to meet with them here at USDA headquarters to talk about the importance of conservation and the need to spread the message that investing in conservation practices on our farm and ranch lands not only protects water, air and wildlife – it also makes economic sense. Read more »

Southern Plains Climate Hub Seeks to Address Three Huge Problems

Corn shows the affect of drought in Texas on Aug. 20, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

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 »

Northern Plains Climate Hub Aims to Help Producers “No Matter What the Weather May Bring”

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.

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.”

Or…

“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 »

Midwest Climate Hub to Help Producers, Coordinate Climate-Related Agricultural Research

Flooding and water damage in the Park and Tongue River Watershed

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 »

USDA’s Climate Hubs: Providing Targeted Solutions to Modern Challenges

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 »