USDA Climate Hubs to Help Ag Producers Meet Extreme Weather Challenges

The designation by USDA of seven research centers, or “hubs,” that will help U.S. agricultural producers create new solutions to the challenges posed by a changing climate is a commendable demonstration of the kind of leadership that the 25x’25 Alliance has said is necessary to address the shifting weather conditions this country is experiencing.

The centers, formally known as the Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change, will tackle risks such as wildfires, invasive pests, floods and drought. And with their regional focus, researchers at these hubs aim to translate science and research into information that farmers, ranchers and forestland owners in those regions can specifically use to adapt and adjust their resource management.

In announcing last summer the concept for the hubs designated last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the need to work closely with farmers and ranchers who stand “on the front line” of risk adaptation.

Those who produce our nation’s food, feed and fiber have for generations come up with innovative ways to adapt to challenges. But the challenges being posed today by a changing climate – a longer growing season, a wildfire season twice as long as it was 30 years ago, and an increased threat of insect outbreaks, drought and flood over the next 50 years ‑ are more complex than ever. They threaten food supply and are costly for producers and rural economies. Drought alone was estimated to cost the country $50 billion from 2011 to 2013.

USDA says it will develop the “next generation” of climate solutions, including modern technologies and tools they can use to adapt and succeed in the face of the ongoing – and extreme ‑ weather volatility.

By conducting scientific assessments of risk and vulnerabilities in each region, and supporting hazard and adaptation planning, USDA can build on its risk management capacity and help farming and forestry interests take on increased incidences of drought, flooding and pest invasion through targeted research, extension, cooperative conservation, technical assistance, and even financial support.

The hubs will link a broad network of partners participating in climate risk adaptation and mitigation, including universities; non-governmental organizations (including 25x’25); federal agencies such as the Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Native Nations and organizations; state departments of environment and agriculture; research centers; farm groups and more.

The collaborative nature of the hubs, particularly with the involvement of farmers, ranchers and forestland owners, will be critical in not only addressing the risks posed by a changing climate, but, in fact, turning the ongoing changes into positives. Farmers and resource managers will learn to take advantage of longer growing seasons with new cropping and livestock management options, while foresters can incorporate changes in climate into local planning of forest management activities, including reforestation and wildfire prevention.

25x’25 is particularly pleased by the fact that much of what USDA is doing through the hubs reflects recommendations released last year by the Alliance’s Adaptation Work Group (Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: Adaptation Recommendations). 25x’25 is working to support partners in efforts to reach out to their members and promote a greater understanding of climate change’s impacts. By offering presentations, workshops, webinars and additional forums to generate dialogue, 25x’25 is contributing to a process that will result in the delivery of near-term, high-value and low-cost solutions to a changing climate that only farmers, ranchers, and foresters can deliver.

The USDA initiative demonstrates the 25x’25 belief that with forethought, leadership and the right priorities, U.S. agriculture and forestry systems will meet the Alliance’s food, feed, fiber and fuel goals by overcoming the challenges posed by changes in weather and prospering from their improved resiliency to them.

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