White House to help farmers, ranchers cope with climate change

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 5, 2014 

The White House will announce President Obama's latest executive order later today -- a move aimed at helping farmers, ranchers, and rural communities combat climate change and adapt to extreme weather.

The move comes a week after Obama in his State of the Union pledged to take action on his own to deal with the effects of climate change.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce at the White House press briefing the creation of the first ever "Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change" at seven locations across the U.S.

The White House says the climate hubs, which are part of Obama's Climate Action Plan, 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 locations selected to serve as the regional center for climate change information and outreach to the agricultural sector include"

Midwest: National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agricultural Research Service, Ames, Iowa, with 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.

"For generations, America's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have innovated and adapted to challenges," Vilsack said. "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."

He called the hubs "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." Vilsack first announced his intention to create the hubs last summer. They'll 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. The Department of Agriculture says that across the country, 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," the department said, noting that drought alone was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion from 2011 to 2013. The Hubs were chosen through a competitive process among USDA facilities. In addition to the seven Hubs, USDA is designating three Subsidiary Hubs (“Sub Hubs”) that will function within the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest. The Sub Hubs will support the Hub within their region and focus on 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.

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