Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.
Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate.
This week, the White House released the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, which provides an unprecedented look at what many of us in agriculture already know: climate change is not just a problem for the future.
We’ve seen firsthand the impact of increasingly severe drought, floods, extreme temperatures, and other dramatic weather patterns. Drought alone was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion from 2011 to 2013.
Farmers and ranchers know that severe and extreme weather means crop damage, delayed spring planting, delayed harvest, and reduced yields, and they know that those things have happened with increasing frequency over the past decade.
The NCA authors—240 of the nation’s leading scientists and experts, including researchers from USDA—confirm our on-the-ground understanding. The authors found that climate disruptions to agriculture have increased in the past forty years, and project that those disruptions will increase over the next twenty five.
Thus far, agriculture has been able to adapt, and USDA has been there to buffer and protect producers from weather-related risks through programs like disaster assistance. However, as the impacts of climate change become more prevalent, farmers and ranchers will need new tools and techniques to protect their bottom line and ensure the future food security of our nation.
USDA has undertaken a multipronged, multiyear approach to protect producers from the negative impacts of climate change. Our regional Climate Hubs collect data, conduct research, and develop practical, science-based conservation tools and techniques tailored specifically to the differing needs of each region of the country. We support cutting edge research by our land-grant university partners, including $6 million to ten schools to study the effects of climate on agriculture and an additional $6 million to develop tools to improve water resource quantity and quality. This research will help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners deal with the complex consequences of climate change in the short term.
Our efforts provide invaluable information and will help to safeguard the future food security of our nation, but there is more to do. We must continue to support policies and practices that mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, reduce consumption of fossil fuels, and make our land, air and water cleaner. You can learn more about the Climate Hubs and USDA’s climate change research at www.usda.gov/climatechange.
|A weekly message from Agriculture Secretary Vilsak