Climate data Regional centers collaborate for data sharing, educationWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Cheyenne – “Climate hubs are regional structures created within USDA to address issues related to weather, climate, weather variability and extreme weather events related to agriculture and agricultural resiliency,” remarks Associate Dean and Director of University of Wyoming Extension Glen Whipple.
The climate hubs, established in February 2014, rely on a collaboration of organizations such as the Department of Interior’s North Central Climate Science Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program – specifically the Western Water Assessment, Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Integrated Drought Information System, National Drought Mitigation Center, High Plains Regional Climate Center and more.
“The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub is contracted with University of Wyoming (UW) Extension to provide coordination for Extension programs,” Whipple adds.
By partnering with land-grant universities and other organizations throughout the country, the seven regional hubs gather and disseminate current information relevant to producers and natural resources professionals.
“Many of the programs we already offer through UW Extension will begin to contain more content related to weather variability, responsiveness to changes in weather and the resilience of agriculture,” he says.
UW Extension’s Windy Kelley, regional Extension program coordinator for the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub, was hired to coordinate efforts between the climate hubs and Extension programs in the Northern Plains.
“The purpose of the hubs is to take research coming out of universities, as well as from other groups, such as USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and make it more useable and accessible for ag producers,” mentions Kelley.
Extension and other associations are working together to share information and determine what information producers and other resources managers are looking for. They want to be able to develop and improve tools for making decisions related to variation in weather and extreme weather events.
“The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub just met with Extension leadership across the six states – including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana – for the first time in June of this year, so we are still formulating part of our plan,” Kelley notes.
Educators, for example, will receive training to be more involved in meteorology and climate science so they can integrate it into some of their other programs.
“We will also be working on identifying early adopters, or those ag producers who adopt adaptation strategies for their ranches or farms, to work with them to find out what’s working and what’s not. We want to know what the challenges are so we can better reach and communicate with other ag producers,” she explains.
Collaboration with Wyoming Ag in the Classroom is also in the planning stages, with the hope of developing climate science curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
USDA ARS Supervisory Research Rangeland Management Specialist Justin Derner comments that the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub has hosted a series of workshops throughout its six-state region.
“We will be trying to bring together current information related to climate science tools, as well as adaptation strategies and practices to weather and climatic variability. Hopefully, that can then be synthesized and put into public popular press articles, news releases, blogs and social media platforms to get out information that’s relevant to stakeholders,” he says.
For example, scientists have been analyzing data about the influences of seasonal temperature and precipitation on livestock gains and performance.
“Some of the new efforts that we will be embarking on with additional resources include evaluating on-the-farm or ranch adaptation practices that producers are using on their places to reduce risk and enhance the resiliency of their working landscape to changing climate,” Derner notes.
Working with producers
Kelley comments, “We definitely want to hear from farmers and ranchers. We are here for them, as well as the greater population, because farmers and ranchers are the main provider of food. They take care of our natural resources.”
Producers who reach out to the hubs may find that research they are interested in has already been done or that scientists can tackle issues that concern them.
“If there are tools that would be of interest to producers, we would love to hear about that,” she remarks.
In Nebraska, for example, a drought tool is being developed to assist in better rangeland management and scientists are hoping to expand its reach throughout the Northern Plains region.
“I really encourage producers to be proactive in terms of contacting us about success stories on their operations and what they are doing to decrease risk and improve resiliency related to weather variability and extreme events,” mentions Derner.
“One of the efforts we have worked on is a vulnerability assessment. The full assessment is on our website,” states Kelley.
Although the full assessment is nearly 60 pages long, some pages are specific to certain crops or agricultural enterprises, and there is also a short assessment available online.
“We created a one-page document for the vulnerability assessment which has more of the highlights. It might be of interest for some people to think about what ag resources are in the Northern Plains and what climate-related hazards and vulnerabilities producers potentially face,” she continues.
The assessment includes a brief list of adaptation and mitigation strategies to the identified risks.
Derner also says that hub experts are happy to answer questions from individuals or organizations that would like to know more about current projects or information regarding weather and climate.
“We will be at Stock Growers in December, so I encourage folks to stop by and talk to us there as well,” says Kelley.