USDA hubs to equip farmers for warming’s effects

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Agriculture Department today named seven regional hubs that will form the basis of the department’s efforts to address the risks that climate change poses to farmers.

The hubs will seek to translate science and research about climate change into practical information for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, according to a statement. Their creation represents the latest step in rolling out President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the administration said.

“As the climate changes, as weather patterns become more intense, it’s obviously going to have an impact on agriculture,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “So I think it’s important for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to equip landowners, farmers, ranchers, producers with the tools, the information, the technologies that will allow them to adapt to changing climates.”

Farmers are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. According to the department, the wildfire season in forests is now 60 days longer than it was three decades ago. In the Midwest, the growing season has extended by almost two weeks over the past several decades, and in the Northeast, extreme precipitation events have increased. Drought in the Southwest has challenged nut, fruit and vegetable producers.

USDA first announced the climate hubs last summer as part of a multistep plan to address climate change that was largely spurred by recent droughts and wildfires in rural areas of the country.

The department warned that a changing climate will cause even longer wildfire seasons, extreme weather events, shifting crop patterns, increased costs for weed control and invasive species management, and increased beetle infestations in forests.

USDA said the climate hubs, all of which are located at existing USDA research facilities, were chosen in a competitive process. They will be located in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Additional “sub hubs” with a narrower focus will be located in California, Michigan and Puerto Rico.

The department said the hubs will provide outreach to farmers and public education about the risks of climate change, perform climate risk and vulnerability assessments, and act as centers of climate data. They will work with universities, nonprofits and other federal agencies, such as the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.