Freezing rain covers flowers, plants and trees in Falls Church, VA, like when unseasonably warm March is followed by last frost. USDA photo by Lance Cheung
All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.
You might have noticed spring-like weather in the Northeast is arriving earlier than usual. There is reliable evidence from many studies that conditions in the Northeast and upper Midwest have become warmer and wetter in recent decades, especially before the coming of winter and spring. The spring-like warmth has snow melting faster and plant growth starting sooner. On average, the last spring frost in the Northeast is about a week earlier now than it was 30 years ago. The change is not as positive as one might expect since the start of growth for many plants has shifted even earlier than the last frost date leading to increased chances of frost damage. This happens most often when unusually warm temperatures in March are followed within 2-5 weeks by a frost event. In 2012, record high March temperatures were followed by record low temperatures (for the date) at the end of April with terrible consequences for fruit growers across Michigan, Ontario, New York, Vermont, and surrounding states. In some places losses were almost total. In something of a repeat, unusual warmth in the Northeast this past winter was interrupted by very cold outbreaks in mid-February and early April. This combination was particularly bad for peaches in New Jersey, Connecticut, parts of New York, and other northeastern states where greater than 90% losses have been reported. Read more »
Champions of Change group in front of the White House.
The White House recently recognized 12 Champions of Change for their leadership in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. This week we will meet them through their USDA Regional Climate Hub, starting with the Midwest’s Loretta Jaus, Erin Fitzgerald Sexson and Timothy Smith.
USDA’s Midwest Regional Climate Hub works to bring land managers in the Midwest the science and other tools that can help them adapt to changing weather/climate conditions. Many farmers, ranchers and land managers are already leading efforts to develop and demonstrate the value of sustainable agricultural practices that benefit soil, air, and water quality while helping to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions. Educators and advisors have also been crucial in bringing science-based, sustainable, and climate-informed agricultural practices to the agricultural community. 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 »
A local farmer explains how his hoop houses allow him to maintain his crops through a tough Minnesota winter.
In September, I was one of 28 Junior Professionals and two advisors from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) who traveled to the Midwest for an annual agricultural training trip. This training opportunity exposed members of FAS’s Junior Professional Advisory Committee (JPAC) to a broad range of U.S. agriculture in Minnesota and Iowa. The trip also helped maintain and build direct relationships with the U.S. agricultural industry, reinforcing the Agency’s connection to its primary constituents. Read more »