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Powerful Living


Oklahoma farmers and ranchers will soon have access to more direct and concentrated management information related to climate change. Photo courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Photo by Keith Weller


El Reno site selected for USDA ‘climate hub’


O


klahoma’s weather isn’t what it used to be. In recent years, patterns have shifted to the extreme. Warmer overnight win- ter temperatures, longer summers, more intense and frequent droughts, and shifts in rain- fall patterns that trigger drought punctuated by fl ood—farmers, ranchers and foresters face these weather challenges more often than they did 30 years ago.


As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in February the creation of the Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change at seven locations around the country. These “climate hubs” will address the growing threats of fi res, invasive pests, destructive fl oods and devastating drought. Oklahoma has been selected to host the USDA’s Southern Plains hub at the Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno. Led by research meteorologist and Cimarron Electric Cooperative member Jeanne Schneider, the hub will build on the USDA’s capacity to de- liver science-based knowledge and practical infor- mation to agriculturalists seeking management guidance related to climate change. “The hub is where it all comes together—from the research side, to writing curriculum, to devel- opment of the actual guidance for farmers, ranch- ers and foresters,” Schneider said. “We’re trying to pull together all of the pieces that agriculturalists are creating to produce results that actually have an impact on the ground.”


6 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


By Gail Banzet-Ellis


Schneider has conducted similar research at the Grazinglands laboratory for 15 years, but now her position has shifted to coordinator as she begins collaborating with Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists to build the climate hub’s infrastructure. “Right now, the vast majority of existing agro- nomic guidance assumes you’re going to have av- erage, steady weather conditions, but that almost never happens in the Southern Plains,” she said. “Rather than ignoring the variability in weather, we want to ramp up the advice in areas such as cropping systems and soil management with the understanding that climate changes have hap- pened and will continue to happen.” Schneider said farmers and ranchers soon will see a more direct and concentrated effort to offer direction that factors in climate change at all ARS, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Forest Service labs and offi ces. The hubs will link a broad network of partners participating in climate risk adaptation and mitigation, including universities; state agencies; non-governmental organizations; federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Native Nations and organizations. “Our list of partners just keeps growing as news about the hub spreads,” Schneider said. “This is the USDA being smart about taking advantage of what all is already going on at other institutions, agencies and universities. We’ll pull it together to make it available in an easy-to-find place for


people who want to know how to manage their land differently.”


Although the hub’s operations will require a couple of years to develop, the climate change in- formation will eventually be made available to all interested parties free of charge. An open-ended project, Schneider already has begun consulting with hub partners to build a database of current guidance and research activities specializing in cli- mate change. “This is a commitment of existing and hopefully new resources to tackle the problem in a different way that accounts for climate and weather vari- ability,” she said. “We have a chance to do some- thing with a serious, practical impact.” With feedback from farmers, ranchers and for- esters of the Southern Plains, Schneider and her team look to improve land management effi cien- cy, promote smart conservation ideas and improve soil conditions for the benefi t of Oklahoma’s ag- ricultural industry. At the project’s recent announcement, USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the climate hub initiative is necessary to help landowners keep up production in the face of challenges. “If we are to be effective in managing the risks


from a shifting climate, we’ll need to ensure that our managers in the fi eld and our stakeholders have the information they need to succeed,” he said.


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