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Recent Forecast Shows Limited Water Supply in Westernmost States

Limited water supplies are predicted in many areas west of the Continental Divide, according to this year’s second forecast by the National Water and Climate Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Right now, snow measuring stations in California, Nevada and Oregon that currently don’t have any snow, and a full recovery isn’t likely, the center’s staff said.

USDA is partnering with states, including those in the West, to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture.

#MyFarmBill Responds to Devastating Drought

Last Friday, Secretary Vilsack joined President Obama in California to announce new resources to help farmers and ranchers cope with devastating losses due to one of the state's worst droughts in over 100 years. This much-needed relief will provide up to $100 million in livestock disaster assistance and an additional $10 million for water conservation, and it would not be possible without the 2014 Agricultural Act.

Times like these underscore the importance of the Farm Bill to America's farmers, providing them with the resources they need to keep American agriculture productive and profitable and giving them confidence to grow and invest even when disaster strikes.

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?

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

“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.

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.

A Firsthand Account: California Farmers Working to Weather Drought

On a recent trip to California, I had the pleasure meeting several farm families who are impacted by the state's worsening drought. Both stops gave me a first-hand view of the challenges these farmers face. We discussed how USDA can further help them with available resources. While the discussion centered on concerns over water supply, I was heartened to see that the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) recommended conservation practices have helped them better prepare for the state’s historic water shortage.

During the first stop, I visited with a distinguished dairyman and conservationist in Marin County, Bob Giacomini, and his four daughters, who operate the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Driving over the hill towards Bob’s milking complex, I could see the pastures had little, if any, grass. In talking to Bob, he said that typically the grass would be at least two feet tall by now. He has real concerns about having enough forage for his cows. I also spoke with Paul Bianchi, who had joined us.  Paul owns a dairy operation in neighboring Sonoma County and, like Bob, is very concerned about his ability to feed his cows. Both discussed the real possibility that they may have to sell some of their herd.

Secretary's Column: Innovation for a Stronger Rural America

Innovation is at the heart of the American agriculture success story. As a matter of course, today’s farmers and ranchers must constantly prepare and adapt to get ahead of tomorrow’s challenges.

At USDA, we have a long history of fostering research and innovation that help agricultural production thrive. I am pleased that the 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law today by President Obama, includes new support for agricultural research and, through a new research foundation, recommits to innovation for years to come.

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.”

Addressing California’s Water Challenges Through Action and Collaboration

Cross posted from DOI News:

California is in the throes of the worst drought in the 160 years during which records have been kept. As a result, the state’s overextended water system is in crisis. All segments of California’s economy— one of the largest in the world—are experiencing the effects of this drought. The economic, social and environmental impacts on agriculture, industry, jobs, communities’ drinking water and the ecosystem will reverberate across the country, and that is why actions need to be taken to address the situation not just in the short term, but also to sustain the state over the long run.

Following two years of dry conditions, on January 17, California Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency for drought. Subsequently, the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce have committed to helping California prepare for and lessen drought impacts. In addition, as called for in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the National Drought Resilience Partnership, which includes the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Energy, will help align federal resources and policies to better support response to drought impacts and build long term sustainability and resilience in California’s water system.

Year's First National Water Forecast Predicts Limited Supply West of the Continental Divide

A limited water supply is predicted west of the Continental Divide, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) data in its first forecast in 2014.

The NWCC also predicts normal water supply east of the Continental Divide and will continue to monitor, forecast and update water supplies for the next six months.

Monitoring snowpack of 13 western states, the center’s mission is to help the West prepare for spring and summer snowmelt and streamflow by providing periodic forecasts. It’s a tool for farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and recreational users to make informed, science-based decisions about future water availability.