USDA Climate Initiative Can Give Producers Tools to Adapt to Extreme Weather

USDA’s announcement this week of new measures the department will pursue to help U.S. agricultural producers create new climate solutions demonstrates the kind of leadership the 25x’25 Alliance has called for in meeting the challenge of changing weather conditions.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the need to work closely with farmers and ranchers who stand “on the front line” of risk adaptation, and he pledged that USDA will take steps to help producers adapt to new threats.

Specifically, the department says it will establish a set of seven regional hubs for risk, adaptation, and mitigation to climate change. The hubs will serve the farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners in each region in their efforts to plan for and adapt to changing climate conditions. They will provide tools and strategies for climate change response to help producers cope with challenges such as drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, and changes in pest pressure.

The hubs will conduct scientific assessments of risk and vulnerabilities in each region, and support hazard and adaptation planning. Building on USDA’s risk management capacity, the department will help farming and forestry interests address the hazards posed by increasingly volatile weather patterns through targeted research, extension, cooperative conservation, technical assistance and financial support.

In fact, the hubs can help turn changes in climatic conditions into positives, helping farmers and resource managers take advantage of the potential for longer growing seasons and new cropping and livestock management options. The hubs will also support incorporating changes in climate into local planning of forest management activities, including reforestation and wildland fire prevention on public and private lands.

Critical to the mission will be the hubs’ connection to regional climate extension and education networks to provide practical help to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. Partnering with land grant universities, Extension, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector, USDA can build an active network within each region.

Other steps announced by Vilsack include the release of a soil carbon data base that provides statistically reliable quantitative estimates of amounts and distribution of carbon stocks for U.S. soils under various land covers and, to the extent possible, differing agricultural management; and guidelines, using a new model based on local climate data, tillage management and soil information that can help determine the latest possible time to terminate a cover crop to minimize risk to the cash crop yield.

Many of the measures announced by USDA reflect recommendations released in April by the 25x’25 Adaptation Work Group (Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: Adaptation Recommendations). As the Agriculture Department implements its climate change initiative, the 25x’25 Alliance will support outreach partners, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and other producer groups, by offering presentations, workshops, webinars and additional forums to generate dialogue and foster greater understanding within the agriculture and forestry sectors of climate change‚Äôs impacts. The outreach effort will help deliver the near-term, high-value and low-cost solutions that only farmers, ranchers, and foresters can deliver.

As chairman of the Adaptation Work Group Fred Yoder said in response to the USDA announcement this week, the initiative “exemplifies the 25x’25 belief that with forethought, leadership and the right priorities, U.S. agriculture and forestry systems will meet the challenges posed by changes in weather and prosper from their improved resiliency to them.”

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