Climate change has been deemed one of the greatest challenges facing agriculture, world food security, and human development in the 21st century. It’s a challenge that USDA is working to mitigate while also making sure that our farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are ready to adapt to the challenges it will pose. Just last year we announced the creation of several regional climate hubs -- information centers that help to connect a community of farmers, ranchers, researchers and partners committed to finding viable climate solutions. One area that’s been identified as particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change is the Caribbean.
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I had the pleasure of visiting the USDA Caribbean Climate Sub Hub in Rio Piedras where I was joined by the Puerto Rico Secretary of Agriculture Hon. Myrna Comas and the Puerto Rico Secretary of Natural Resources Hon. Carmen Guerrero. I was truly impressed by the collaboration taking place at the Caribbean Climate Sub Hub at every level – federal, state, and local. While at the hub, I saw some examples of products, from musical instruments to home decor, made from native wood grown on the island. By working collaboratively with the hub, local producers are able to harvest native woods in a way that both supports forest health and creates new market opportunities.
Producers in the Caribbean understand that climate change can have very real impacts on their operations and way of life – they see it every day from more extreme hurricane seasons, an uptick in drought and fires, and loss of coral reefs. The folks at the hub said their goal is to turn this into action – instead of turning producers away from the land, they want to teach them how to adapt to these changes so they can stay on the land.
Puerto Rico imports the vast majority of their agricultural products. I learned on my trip that over 90 percent of feed for animals, like dairy cows, is imported and sold at a high premium. Yet, there is no reason why more animal feed, like corn and sorghum, can’t be grown successfully on the island. The folks involved in the hub, like the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office, are looking for opportunities to partner with producers to grow animal feed in a sustainable, forward-looking approach. I met with Jose Delgado, a beginning, veteran farmer who is growing corn and sorghum to introduce locally-grown livestock feed on the island.
During my visit, I also got an up close look at some of the experiments taking place at El Yunque National Forest. The researchers there are looking at impacts of warming in the forest, changes in rainfall, and capturing the social costs of climate change in relation to the forest. They too are working to better understand how forest resources can be used in the face of different climate challenges.
Farmers and ranchers across the nation are working diligently to address the effects of climate change. I am confident that our climate hubs, like the one I visited in Puerto Rico, will give our producers the tools they need to ensure a reliable agricultural economy for the region.