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Aerial photo of farm in Arkansas during a drought in 2012.

This aerial view of drought-stricken Arkansas shows damaged corn and sparse soybean crops. The ground is so dry that tractors leave several hundred yards of dust in their wake.

Photograph by Les Stone, Corbis

Patrick J. Kiger

for National Geographic

Published February 5, 2014

Saying it wants to help farmers and ranchers better cope with the effects of climate change, the Obama Administration on Wednesday announced a new network of regional "climate hubs."

The idea is to dispatch a cadre of climate change specialists across the nation to gather the latest science on how climate shifts may affect crops and animals, and to disseminate the information to farmers, ranchers, local officials, and others.

The hubs will operate out of U.S. Department of Agriculture offices, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in making the announcement.

Data from those hubs could help farmers and ranchers anticipate a variety of potentially damaging effects of the warming trend, said Bill Hohenstein, director of the USDA's Climate Change Program Office.

"Higher nighttime temperatures, for example, can affect plant development at critical stages of the growth cycle," Hohenstein said in an interview Wednesday. "And in the west, smaller winter snowpacks can affect the availability of water for irrigation during the growing season."

The climate shift can also mean increased risk to farms from fires, and boost the spread of pests and diseases that threaten farm output, he said.

The new climate hubs could offer solutions, such as helping wheat farmers select seeds whose genetic makeup makes them more resilient against predicted drought conditions.

"On the pest management side, we know that insects respond differently to warmer, drier weather," said Ann Bartuska, deputy undersecretary for the USDA's Research, Education, and Economics section. "If we can predict the change in their range, we can help farmers to find measures to deal with them."

Getting Info to Farmers

The USDA described some of the impacts it expects from climate shifts in a February 2013 report, saying the agency's scientists expect the trend to have "overall detrimental effects on most crops and livestock" by the mid-21st century. (Related: "Leaked Report Spotlights Big Climate Change Assessment.")

The Department of Agriculture has been generating such information for years, spending $120 million a year on climate change-related research.

"The question is how we can get that information into the hands of those who need it," said Bartuska.

The department's new climate change specialists will pass the data and advice along through an existing network of local county extension agents, rural development specialists, and other advisers, Hohenstein said. The specialists will also help train such personnel, along with local officials, to focus more on climate-related issues.

No New Spending

The hub program was announced days before President Barack Obama is expected to sign a $1 trillion farm bill, which has attracted criticism for dialing back funds for food stamps and for financially supporting agribusiness in ways that some say is outdated.

The climate hub program, for its part, aims to avoid spending new dollars, repurposing existing office space and staff. Hohenstein declined to estimate the program's actual cost.

The climate hubs will be located at USDA offices in Ames, Iowa; Durham, New Hampshire; Raleigh, North Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; El Reno, Oklahoma; Corvallis, Oregon; and Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The program will also create three subsidiary hubs to deal with narrower issues that affect certain regions. One of those "sub hubs," located in Davis, California, will focus on issues related to specialty crops such as blueberries and wine grapes, since less is known about climate's effects on them.

Don Wuebbes, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the nation's leading climate change researchers, said that helping farmers figure out how to deal with climate change is crucial, because "no matter what we do, we're not going to stop the changing climate.

"I know that USDA scientists get it," Wuebbles said. "It's a way of saying, yes, it's real, and it's already happening, and we need to figure out how to deal with it."

Andrew Walmsley, an official with the American Farm Bureau, an agricultural lobby that has fought the Obama Administration's efforts to curb carbon emissions, said he viewed the program as "probably the least troublesome" of the White House's moves on climate.

17 comments
sho kami
sho kami

if everyone will just step back and look at the whole picture for thousands or years the earth has been going through a cycle.  it has always warmed and always cooled.  but now that we have the technology to track all this people are freaking out about it.  if we look to nature and how it naturally responds to these conditions we can learn alot about what crops do well in what areas.  if you try and grow and water hungry crop in semi arid land it doesnt do as well.  if you grow crops that proliferate in cooler climates they arent going to do as well and visa versa.  weather is weather and theres nothing you can do about it.  learn from whats going on around you and adopt to that.  its all in the cycles.

Jack Wolf
Jack Wolf

They are about 30 years too late.  I can't believe they are only now setting up something.  But whatever they do, the situation will continue to deteriorate so long as we emit greenhouse gases that trap more and more heat.  Impacts and feedbacks are accelerating in case Washington haven't noticed.  This is going to get ugly - they let it go on too long to stop the changes now.  But, have a nice day!

John Patt
John Patt

Paul M. You sound like the captain of the Titanic. We're not gonna stop until we are sure this iceberg can sink the ship.

Asok Smith
Asok Smith

“White House Announces 7 Regional Climate Hubs”

If these are places to go to get warmed up from the record-breaking bitter cold, ice and snow around the nation, I’m all for them. But 7 isn’t enough. Way more than that are needed. OH, WAIT ...

Joe G.
Joe G.

Maybe we should END CLIMATE CHANGE instead of finding ways to survive around it that still can damage humanity

Phillip Noe
Phillip Noe

If you talk to many Congressmen/women, human-caused climate change isn't happening despite what the world's respected scientific institutions have been saying for decades.  It's time the obstructionists were removed from office so we can get busy shifting to sustainable sources and uses of energy.  Please join the efforts.

ExhaustingHabitability(dot)com

Bill Collins
Bill Collins

If it instills a sense of control over one's future and the environment, go ahead and do it I guess. The reality is that we as a species are not in general wired to think strategically. There is no way that enough concerned people will become activivists to put a dent in CO2 output. We have to focus on implementing nuclear for electrical power and developing a liquid fuel for transportation that is as carbon neutral as possible. We will only accept those solutions as a group if they do not hit our wallets too hard. The vast majority of people are about the here and now, not decades in the future.

Gerald Wilhite
Gerald Wilhite

"The question is how we can get that information into the hands of those who need it," said Bartuska.

Bartuska, why don't you try e-mail or a good website that works?


Farmer and ranchers don't have time for bureaucrats talking about 5 years or 10 years or 50 years from now. Come back when you can reliably forecast next month's weather. 


This is political safety-net for the climate hacks being laid off by Congress's cut-backs in John Holdren's wasteland of IPCC research.  

Paul M.
Paul M.

The entire scientific world has agreed with almost 100% certainty that climate change is real and is happening and could lead to unstoppable warming and not once in 31 years has any IPCC warning ever agreed beyond; "could be" a crisis of unstoppable warming and not one scientist has ever said; "will be" or "inevitable" like they love to say comet hits are. If science can't be certain, YOU can't be certain so stop wanting this misery to have been real for billions of innocent children. We don't have to love a planet with exaggerated fears and to you lazy copy and paste news editors; shame on all of you for this needless panic.

Phillip Noe
Phillip Noe

Mitigation only?  When the opportunities for sequestering carbon in the soil are so great?  What a missed opportunity!  Perhaps there were too many obstructionists in Congress for anything like that.  It would effectively be an admission that human-caused climate change is real and it needs to be addressed.

Regardless, more of us need to insist that Congress do their job, face reality, and work to reduce emissions.  Our future generations are at risk.  Please join the efforts.

www.ExhaustingHabitability.com

Keris Matic
Keris Matic

Isn't Verizon already on this.......??  (That's what the commercial says...)

Jack Wolf
Jack Wolf

@Bill Collins Why not just put solar on everyone's house and to heck with utilities, the nuclear issue, etc?  Besides, utilities won't be able to provide good service anyway, not in an abruptly changing planet.  Look at what's going on now, let alone in 5, 10 years.   And, I don't think nuclear is a good idea in a changing climate.  Too much geophysical activity would be expected whenever there are changing in forces on the crust. 

Jack Wolf
Jack Wolf

@Paul M. I'd know that paragraph anywhere, mememine..  Why don't you come and tell everyone all the "who"s you really are?  Do you get paid per post?  It's obviously not for original content.  Go ahead everyone.  Cut and paste Paul's comment into google, do a verbatim search, and there she be in all of her aliases.  She's a Tokyo Rose if there ever was one blowing smoke at you paid for by people that do not have your best interests at heart.


And, a guy would never write like that.  Then she calls news editors cut and paste editors???  LOL.  That's proof of their hypocrisy right there.  All she ever does is cut and paste.  Go ahead, cut and paste her comment and do a verbatim search.  She's Paul M., Climate Resist, mememine, mememine69, Paul Merrifield, the list is long.


It's disgusting to see this in action.  Billion's of people's lives are at risk now, and our press allow these fake comments to go on in what is clearly propaganda.

Brian Gateley
Brian Gateley

@Paul M. If you're driving along in your car without a seat belt on and get into an accident, it "could be" that you will be flung through the windshield and have your head cut off....but it's not "inevitable", so do you not bother wearing your seatbelt?  Scientists don't say "will be" or "inevitable" because there's way too many variables to predict anything with absolute certainty, but as evidence mounts up, do you really believe we should just stick our heads in the sand and ignore it?

Jack Wolf
Jack Wolf

@Phillip Noe Won't the soil start to emit carbon once it starts to bake?  It's going to get screeching hot.  Even soil microbes have a cardinal living range and they're an irreplaceable component to the soil system.   Thanks - just curious.

Jack Wolf
Jack Wolf

@Brian Gateley @Paul M. Read my comment, and do the exercise.  You will see who Paul M. really is.  But, thanks!  Good comment.  Keep on 'em.

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