Ag Policy Blog

USDA Announces Regional Hubs to Cope with Climate Change

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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At a White House press briefing today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the creation of regional hubs to work on adaptation and risk mitigation for climate change. The "Climate Hubs" will be at seven locations around the country.

According to USDA, the facilities "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."

The announcement follows comments by President Obama in his State of the Union speech pledging that the administration will continue to do everything in its power to act on climate change.

“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," Vilsack said. "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 Climate Hubs will build on the capacity within USDA to deliver science-based knowledge and practical information to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to support decision-making related to climate change across the country. Essentially, the hubs will work with extension agents and others to help farmers cope with more volatile weather conditions while protecting the long-term sustainability of the land to produce food, feed and fiber.

As USDA noted, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are seeing an increase in risks to their operations due to fires, increases in invasive pests, droughts, and floods. For example, 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, and forests will become increasingly threatened by insect outbreaks, fire, drought and storms over the next 50 years. These events threaten our food supply and are costly for producers and rural economies. Drought alone was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion from 2011 to 2013. Such risks have implications not only for agricultural producers, but for all Americans.

As USDA stated, the hubs 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.

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According to the USDA release, there will be Climate Hubs and other support facilities, or Subsidiary Hubs, "Sub Hubs."

The Sub Hubs will support the Hub within their region and focus on a narrow and unique set of issues relative to what will be going on in the rest of the Hub. The Southwest Sub Hub, located in Davis, California, will focus on specialty crops and Southwest forests, the Southeast Sub Hub will address issues important to the Caribbean, and the Midwest Sub Hub will address climate change and Lake State forests.

The following locations have been selected to serve as their region’s center of climate change information and outreach to mitigate risks to the agricultural sector:

Midwest: National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agricultural Research Service, Ames, Iowa and a Sub-Hub in Houghton, Mich.

Northeast: Northern Research Station, Forest Service, Durham, N.H.

Southeast: Southern Research Station, Forest Service, Raleigh, N.C., with a 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., with a Sub-Hub in Davis, Calif.

“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.”

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