September 22, 2014

Feds promise to improve predictions of drought

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

As many Nebraska farmers are beginning the spring planting process, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency and others in the federal government are looking to improve drought forecasts.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do about drought,” Vilsack says. “What you can do is forecast it more effectively and in a more timely way, so we put together a ‘Drought Resiliency Task Force’ at the federal level. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the USDA are combining and leading this effort and we are actually working on better forecasting models.”

The latest forecast from the federal government suggests the drought in California and the southwest United States will continue, while pockets of the Midwest, including parts of Nebraska, are predicted to emerge from drought this spring.

After the devastating drought of 2012 which lingered in many areas in 2013, Vilsack says his agency is financing research into how farmers can better use the water that is available.

“We’ve just recently announced a $30 million challenge grant to universities, five years of grant monies to take a look at water and how we might be able to utilize water more efficiently and effectively in agricultural production, so we’ll obviously get benefits from that,” Vilsack says. “We have a series of smaller grants under our Conservation Grant Program that’s really focused on looking at how forage can be improved, how irrigation systems can be improved.”

The USDA is also establishing “Climate Change Hubs” in seven¬†locations around the country,¬† “which is going to evaluate the vulnerabilities, and create mitigation and adaption strategies, and then we have a series of smaller programs,” Vilsack says. The closest hub to Nebraska will be in Ames, Iowa.

Passage of the new Farm Bill in January also re-activated disaster programs for livestock producers that had lapsed last fall.