The United States and its territories have suffered five consecutive years of at least $10 billion weather and climate disasters. And, for five consecutive years, USDA’s Climate Hubs have been there to help American agriculture prepare for and respond to these and other major climate events.
Climate Hubs were introduced in February 2014 to develop and deliver science-based information, technology, tools, and education to help stakeholders make climate-informed decisions in 10 specific regions. “The Climate Hubs connect USDA research to programs and serve as a model for how to put climate resilience into practice,” said Rachel Steele, national climate hub lead with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
Climate Hubs, led by ARS and U.S. Forest Service, include representatives from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Risk Management Agency. Scientists in the hubs assess climate risks and vulnerabilities based on regional needs, including drought, forest and crop resilience, and threats from pests and disease.
One of the most highly-visible efforts to date has been the Caribbean Climate Hub’s 2017 response to devastation in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. After discovering that the storms damaged about 30 million of the island’s trees, staff provided training to develop knowledge and technical skills that improved the island’s capacity to generate high-value products from the downed trees, such as furniture, musical instruments, and artisanal products.
In the North Central United States, staff at the Northern Plains Climate Hub in Fort Collins, Colorado, and their collaborators developed the Grassland Productivity Forecast (Grass-Cast), an online tool that helps ranchers predict the amount of vegetation on rangelands. Grass-Cast provides ranchers and other land managers with information about the likely availability – or shortage – of grazing resources in their area.
Over five years, the Climate Hubs have provided critical resources and services (PDF, 613 KB), including collectively providing technical expertise to more than 17,000 people through 237 webinars, podcasts, and other digital media; participating in more than 410 peer-reviewed publications and 690 other papers; sharing climate-related education resources to more than 15,000 youth at over 50 events; and developing 36 pieces of formal curricula geared toward USDA staff, producers, foresters, land managers, and K-12 students.
“The Hubs are poised to support the regional implementation of the USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda, recently announced by Secretary Perdue, and the climate adaptation components of the USDA’s Science Blueprint (PDF, 2.6 MB),” Steele said. “In a world with growing populations and at-risk natural resources, increasing production while reducing our ecological footprint will foster a resilient agricultural sector that can withstand the spectrum of environmental shocks and extreme events.”
“The hubs are a model for ensuring that working land managers, extension professionals, and agricultural advisors have the information, data, and tools they need to build landscape-level climate resilience,” she concluded.
In its five-year review, the Climate Hub Executive Committee learned that demand for programs and products exceeds current capacity. The Committee determined that the hubs could play a larger role co-producing regionally relevant science.
Featured photo (by William Gould) shows John Curtis, contract instructor, demonstrating milling techniques at a workshop sponsored by USDA’s Caribbean Climate Hub. The workshop was held at the University of Puerto Rico Agricultural Experimental Station in Corozal, Puerto Rico.