Piecing the Puzzle Together - Climate Hub Teaches Farmers to Mitigate Impacts of Extreme WeatherTue, 11 Dec 2018 10:51:45 CST
Clay Pope is with the Southern Plains Climate Hub, headquartered at the Grazing Lands Laboratory at Fort Reno USDA complex. He recently spoke with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays about the Hub’s purpose and some of the recent work that has been conducted to help educate and inform producers on best management practices when it comes to conserving farm and range land and mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events. You can listen to their complete conversation by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
According to Pope, the Climate Hubs were originally created to coordinate the activities of the different USDA agencies on issues dealing with extreme weather events that he says are being exacerbated by a changing climate. As the name suggests, The Southern Plains Climate Hub covers Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas and is affiliated with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
“We do a lot of work trying to help agricultural producers come up with strategies to deal with extreme weather events. We deal with the agencies to see what they’re doing because every agency has a piece of the puzzle in dealing with the challenges we see from weather,” Pope said. “Our job is to bring everybody to the table - see what pieces they have to that puzzle - assemble that puzzle and then see where the holes are.”
The work that Pope and the Climate Hub does he says, helps producers better prepare themselves and their operations for both extreme rain events and extended droughts. It also has a major focus on improving soil health which improves soil’s overall capacity for moisture retention and helps farmers have more control over soil erosion. Citing a Kansas State University study, Pope says that if farmers can increase their soil’s organic material by just one percent, it can triple your soil’s water retention which can help dampen the intensity and impact of prolonged periods of drought.
One issue that the Hub is promoting right now, though, is the benefits of prescribed burning. Pope says this practice can be very beneficial to land managers as it not only reduces the fuel load for potential wildfires, but also helps the ecology of the land. According to Pope, the climate has a lot to do with how severe the threat of wildfire can be each year. Like we have seen recently, moisture is generally always a welcomed gift - especially during our typical dry months. But, Pope says with that moisture and the resulting abundance of forage growth, challenges arise.
“When you get into winter, you see the cold weather come in… that vegetation dies off,” he said. “Especially if you have a mild winter and you get into spring. You basically have a tinderbox situation set up. We’ve had that for three years in a row now. The concern is that we’re setting up for another one this year.”
He says the benefits of a good soil health program are two-fold. By practicing simple steps to improve soil health, a farmer is ensuring that their land is being conserved in a sustainable manner while simultaneously mitigating his or her risk of wildfire.
The first step that any farmer should look into, Pope advises, is to visit with their local NRCS conservationist. That meeting should result in a site-specific conservation plan drawn up with considerations to the goals and economic components of your individual operation in mind. From there, he says figure out what is right for you and your business and then do your research on best practices and what federal programs are available to help you achieve your vision.
To learn more, be sure to sign up for the upcoming Fire Suppression Through Prescribed Fire Training School being hosted by the Southern Plains Climate Hub and its partners, which will take place January 5, 2019 in Concho, Okla. Click here for details.
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