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Posts tagged: drought

U.S. Forest Service: Responding and Adapting to Wildland Fire

The U.S. Forest Service has burned more than 480 acres in the Flying J Project, an effort on the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona to protect the community of Tusayan. The project is outside the Grand Canyon National Park and represents a small part of a larger effort to use controlled burns on more than 4,500 acres of the forest. So far, nearly 1,900 acres have been treated. (U.S. Forest Service/Holly Krake)

The U.S. Forest Service has burned more than 480 acres in the Flying J Project, an effort on the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona to protect the community of Tusayan. The project is outside the Grand Canyon National Park and represents a small part of a larger effort to use controlled burns on more than 4,500 acres of the forest. So far, nearly 1,900 acres have been treated. (U.S. Forest Service/Holly Krake)

The loss of property and firefighters during wildfires are a reminder of the challenges we face in reducing the risks associated with large, unpredictable wildfires. Climate change, drought, insect infestations, changing land-use patterns, and other factors have contributed to increases in the complexity and in the numbers of wildfires across the United States.

Over the past four decades, some states such as Arizona and Idaho have seen the number of large fires burning each year more than triple. In many other western states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wyoming, the number of large fires has doubled, according to a report by Climate Central. Average spring and summer temperatures across 11 Western states have increased by more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, contributing to higher wildfire risks. In Arizona, spring temperatures have warmed faster than any other state in the U.S., rising nearly 1 degree per decade since 1970, which likely played a role in the increasing number of fires in the state. Read more »

Finding Success with Next Generation Farmers

Under Secretary Ed Avalos (left) listens to Carlos and Greg Chavez explain the ongoing effects of drought on farms in Texas. Greg, a next generation farmer, has worked to increase the sustainability and success of his family farm by implementing new technology and irrigation methods that decrease water consumption.

Under Secretary Ed Avalos (left) listens to Carlos and Greg Chavez explain the ongoing effects of drought on farms in Texas. Greg, a next generation farmer, has worked to increase the sustainability and success of his family farm by implementing new technology and irrigation methods that decrease water consumption.

Not everyone goes to work every day knowing that they will be inspired by the people they meet—I’m very fortunate in that way.  From the federal agencies that I oversee to the farmers and ranchers I visit with, I am truly inspired by their dedication to serving the American people and their commitment to the success of rural America.  And many of the issues that they work on or face in their daily lives are the same issues that we are all concerned with—sustainability and conservation, short-term and long-term stability, and making sure our children and the next generation have paths to success.

During a recent visit to the Texas Panhandle, I stopped to have breakfast and visit with the father and son team who run the Chavez family farm.  Carlos and Greg Chavez farm 3,600 acres of corn, wheat and cotton, and run 1,200 head of cattle on winter wheat.  Greg, the son, has focused his attention on implementing new crop watering techniques, leveraging technology and conservation practices to combat the inherent dryness brought on by the strong Panhandle winds. Read more »

Need for Geospatial Data Grows Across the Country

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine.

Over the past several decades, satellite imagery has emerged as one of the most valuable new tools in modern agriculture. At USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), we strive to remain at the forefront of this technology to continually advance our statistical products in service to U.S. agriculture. To keep abreast of how our counterparts in other countries are implementing this exciting new technology, last month we hosted representatives from the Canadian and Mexican agriculture departments in a Tripartite meeting. As geographic neighbors and statistical collaborators, we are particularly interested in each others’ work and how we can learn from each other.

It was exciting to see that Statistics Canada, working with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, is researching new remote sensing-based yield models, using vegetative indices, agro-climactic data, and survey data for 21 crops. As a result of this innovation, Stats Canada is planning to use only remote sensing to set their official estimates for these crops rather than conducting traditional surveys. This is a tremendous step forward for a statistical estimates program that we will be watching with great interest. Read more »

The Modern Farmer and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Get Started page is a new addition to the NRCS website, and it provides the steps to assistance.

The Get Started page is a new addition to the NRCS website, and it provides the steps to assistance.

For generations, children have been singing about the farmer, his wife and kids, and even the mouse and the cheese. But today, a modern farmer is more likely to be using the mouse on his computer (or more realistically, a smartphone or tablet) than dancing around a small wooded valley with his family and farm animals.

The website of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, nrcs.usda.gov, has been evolving to keep pace with the needs of today’s farmer. Our mission is to provide American farmers, ranchers and other visitors with the tools and resources they are looking for on a site that is easy to use and navigate. 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 »

It’s Said That No One can Predict the Weather, but Scientists at the Ag Outlook Forum Give it a Shot

This graphic shows past records and predictions based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Provided the by U.S. Forest Service.

This graphic shows past records and predictions based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Provided the by U.S. Forest Service.

Weather….  We all care about it. In many communities, local TV and radio weather forecasters are celebrities, and for good reason.  While we can’t do much about the weather, it affects us all every day.

During last week’s Agricultural Outlook Forum two sessions drew exceptionally large crowds.  One was the Friday afternoon “Weather and Agriculture” segment and another was the morning “Markets and Weather” presentation.  While no one can say for sure what the weather outlook will be for the 2014 summer growing season, Brad Rippey, agricultural meteorologist with USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), Eric Luebehusen, OCE ag. meteorologist and Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the Climate Protection Section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made some observations and predictions in the afternoon session.  The snowpack in the West’s Sierra Nevada is far below normal.  The Western winter wet season has been a bust, with winter precipitation less than 10 percent of average in some areas.  California, the Great Basin and southern Great Plains are in drought.  The meteorologists said California, the lower gulf coast and much of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas could see above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in March, April and May.  According to Rippey, “We need a miracle March in 2014 to avoid major problems in California.”  The most current information is available through NOAA’s Seasonal Drought Outlook map and the USDA drought monitor. Read more »