You are not alone when it comes to frustrations with weather, and with actual changes in the climate. In the Midwest, growing seasons have lengthened by almost two weeks since 1950. The fire season is now 60 days longer than it was 30 years ago. With these changes, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners across the country are seeing a change in the risks to their operations caused by fires, invasive pests, droughts, and floods. Drought alone was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion from 2011 to 2013. It’s clear that we need to make adjustments to what we do so that we can continue to feed the folks relying on us.
On February 5, 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of “Climate Hubs” to help farmers, ranchers and foresters. According to his press release, “Climate Hubs will address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis, aiming to translate science and research into information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management.”
“For generations, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have innovated and adapted to challenges. Today, they face a new and more complex threat in the form of a changing and shifting climate, which impacts both our nation’s forests and our farmers’ bottom lines,” said Vilsack. “USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.”
The Hubs have been in the works since last summer. They will provide outreach and information to producers on ways to mitigate risks; public education about the risks climate change poses to agriculture, ranchlands and forests; regional climate risk and vulnerability assessments; and centers of climate forecast data and information. They will also link a broad network of partners participating in climate risk adaptation and mitigation, including universities; non-governmental organizations; 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.
“This is the next step in USDA’s decades of work alongside farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to keep up production in the face of challenges,” Vilsack said. “If we are to be effective in managing the risks from a shifting climate, we’ll need to ensure that our managers in the field and our stakeholders have the information they need to succeed. That’s why we’re bringing all of that information together on a regionally-appropriate basis.”
Will More Information Help?
In an interview with Jeremy Hobson of Here & Now, Hobson asked the Secretary, “Aren’t there, though, farmers in this country who won’t be able to do anything with additional information, it’s just they live in a place that is in real trouble because of climate change and they won’t be able to farm anymore?
Vilsack responded by saying “Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. It may very well be that they’re advised that they can’t farm what they’ve done in the past, but they can farm a new crop or a new product. And that’s one of the reasons why the passage of the farm bill that passed the Senate yesterday and the House last week is so important, because it provides us not just the ability to expand on this research and to provide this advice and guidance, but it also will provide the financial assistance and help for farmers who want to make transitions to different systems or who want to embrace new conservation practices, who are interested in just simply continuing to produce at the same levels that they historically have been able to produce.” Examples of the kind of assistance producers can access include “a new micro-loan program to help smaller sized operators get in the business, greater support for local and regional food systems, a new manufacturing opportunity in rural America that we finance when we take crop residue and turn it into new chemicals and new materials.”
Where’s Your Hub?
Here’s a listing of the primary hubs and the “sub-hubs” also providing services:
• Midwest: National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agricultural Research Service, Ames, Iowa
(Click here for a post from Jerry L. Hatfield, the Midwest Regional Hub Leader, on the background he brings to his effort to help producers deal with climate issues. This gives you an idea of the kind of work hubs will be doing.)
• Midwest Sub-Hub in Houghton, Mich.
• Northeast: Northern Research Station, Forest Service, Durham, N.H.
• Southeast: Southern Research Station, Forest Service, Raleigh N.C.
• Southeast Sub-Hub in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
• Northern Plains: National Resources Center, Agricultural Research Service, Fort Collins, Colo.
• Southern Plains: Grazinglands Research Lab, Agricultural Research Service, El Reno, Okla.
• Pacific Northwest: Pacific Northwest Research Station, Forest Service, Corvallis, Ore.
• Southwest: Rangeland Management Unit/Jornada Experimental Range, Agricultural Research Service, Las Cruces, N.M.
• Southwest Sub-hub in Davis, Calif