Making NOAA Climate Forecasts Useful to Farmers
By Don Comis
November 6, 2009
Climate forecasts are becoming more
useful to farmers and ranchers, thanks to research by
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientists and their cooperators.
Schneider, hydraulic engineer
Garbrecht and hydrologist
Zhang at the ARS
Plains Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research Unit in El Reno, Okla.,
are working with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to translate seasonal climate forecasts
into possible daily weather outcomes. This research supports the
U.S. Department of Agricultures
priority of helping farmers and ranchers cope with climate change.
Currently, NOAA forecasts are seldom used in agriculture. One problem is
that they cover too large an area for direct agricultural application.
Schneider found that NOAAs predictions of periods of above-average
temperatures were accurate enough to be possibly useful for agriculture over
most of the lower 48 states. However, currently available forecasts for
cooler-than-average temperatures are generally too unreliable for many uses
anywhere in the country.
Forecasts for wetter- or drier-than-average conditions are mostly useful in
only about 10 percent of the lower 48 states. In these regions, seasonal
precipitation predictions may assist crop insurance programs and other
agricultural enterprises that operate at regional scales.
Garbrecht, Schneider and Zhang are developing computer models for
climate-related decision support. Schneider developed new methods to downscale
seasonal forecasts to the farm scale and express them in one-month increments.
Garbrecht modified an ARS-developed software program to generate daily weather
outcomes corresponding to these monthly climate forecasts. And Zhang developed
a winter wheat grazing model to assess potential impacts of the seasonal
forecasts on forage, beef and grain production.
Forecast methodologies are improving rapidly, spurring major advances in
Demonstrations of specific agricultural applications in regions that can
currently benefit from forecasts should help spur wider use elsewhere as
more about this and other climate change research in the November-December
2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is USDAs principal intramural scientific research agency.