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climate hubs series

USDA Northeastern Regional Climate Hub Gets Ready to Help Producers, Forest Managers, Deal with Challenges

If you work outside, you care about the weather. But if your business depends on the weather, you should care about the climate.

Those of us who have lived in the Northeast for years know that something is up with the weather.  It’s more changeable; too wet one month, too dry the next.  Spring is coming earlier but late frosts linger and fall seems to stretch on.  This year’s cold winter reminds us of what winters used to be like.

Southeast Regional Climate Hub Works to Sustain Agricultural and Forest Systems

What a day! I am excited and nervous at the same time. Over the past nine months, hundreds of folks have been working together to make the opening of the USDA Southeastern Regional Climate Hub (SERCH) a reality, and today is the big day. SERCH meet world, world meet SERCH.

Now that we have formalities out of the way, what is SERCH? Well, SERCH is for you, if you are a landowner, rural resident, agricultural producer, researcher, policymaker, or anyone who is interested in sustaining the agricultural and forest systems on which we depend. Specifically, SERCH was born to help take decades of scientific research on natural resource disturbances related to weather and climate vulnerability, and convert those studies, data, and knowledge into practical management options for producers, forest owners and land managers across the Southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. Our region faces many types of disturbances, including wildfire, hurricanes, insects and diseases, and changing land use, just to name a few.  All of these challenges are impacted by climate change and weather variability. SERCH will use its enormous collective brain power and experience to develop ways to adapt to these disturbances.

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

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?

Southern Plains Climate Hub Seeks to Address Three Huge Problems

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.

Pacific Northwest Climate Hub Gets "Information to People in the Right Way"

The lands of the Pacific Northwest produce a bounty of grains, dairy, beef, fish, vegetables, and wild game that feed the people of the region and the rest of the country.  Many of those who work directly with the land have been doing so for generations.  Two of my own great uncles helped to bring irrigation to the Rogue River Valley near the turn of the 20th century, and my cousins have been farming there ever since.

Over time, farmers, ranchers, fishers, and private forest owners have accumulated knowledge and wisdom from family, local communities, and agricultural universities.  These individuals have supported a technically progressive agricultural industry that supplies most of the nation’s potato crop and a good share of its wheat and milk.  Agricultural producers are used to working with many sources of information about weather, water, climate, soils and fertility, pests, and disease and then making important decisions and investments about what they will do on the land.  Their decisions about investments of time, money, and materials have daily, seasonal, annual, and multi-year implications.  Selections of fruit, nut, grape, or forest tree varieties and capital investments in machinery, irrigation, and processing are made with today’s best information in anticipation of several decades or more.  Doing this right requires both technical savvy and the wisdom to integrate many different kinds of information.

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

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.”

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?

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.