Climatic variability on beef to be studied

News
May 10, 2013

While the weather has been unpredictable—to say the least—this spring, and drought conditions continue to plague some areas, scientists have gained new support to study weather patterns.

It appears climate change examinations are replacing global warming suspicions; in fact, they are high enough on the important list to bypass budget cuts.

Despite sequestration activity—the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act—USDA has made it a priority to fund certain Extension-based agricultural studies.

Last week, USDA awarded $19.5 million to support research, education and Extension activities associated with climate solutions in agriculture aimed at the impacts of climate variability on dairy and beef cattle.

“USDA remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. [Last week’s] announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy,” the Department’s press release stated.

“We have seen the impact that variable climate patterns have had on production agriculture for the past several years. These projects will deliver the best tools available to accurately measure and respond to the effects of climate on beef and dairy production,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Farmers and ranchers need sound, science-based information and solutions to help them make management decisions that will sustain their productivity and keep their operations economically viable.”

The University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison, WI, received $9.9 million over five years to study the environmental impact of various dairy production systems and develop best management practices for producers to implement at the farm level. The project’s ultimate goal is to increase the resiliency of dairy production systems while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The team will also develop an agricultural education curriculum with an urban foods focus at Vincent High School in Milwaukee in an effort to educate future leaders and consumers about the contributions of the dairy industry to economic and environmental sustainability. Curricula at the high school and college levels will be developed related to mitigation and adaptation to climate change and agricultural sustainability.

UW is partnering in the project with the University of Arkansas, Cornell University, the University of Michigan, North Carolina A&T University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Washington, along with four USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratories, the U.S. Department of Energy and the industry-sponsored Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater, OK, received $9.6 million over five years to understand vulnerability and resilience of Southern Great Plains beef in an environment of increased climate variability, dynamic land-use and fluctuating markets. The team’s goal is to safeguard regional beef production and limit the environmental footprint of agriculture.

The project also includes education and Extension components to train the next generation of producers and researchers in addressing the impact of climate on beef cattle. Using a community- and citizen-science approach, the project will train young students and citizens to use GPS-enabled digital cameras and smartphones and web data portals to participate in field data collection. The geospatial data will be integrated into a portal for community-based analysis and inventory and used to educate the general public on climate change related to range-based beef production.

The team is comprised of 32 scientists from OSU, Kansas State University, University of Oklahoma, Tarleton State University, the Samuel R. Noble Foundation, and two ARS laboratories.

These Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAP) bring together teams of researchers that represent various geographic areas to support discovery, applications and promote communication leading to innovative, science-based solutions to critical and emerging national priorities and needs. This year’s awards broaden NI- FA’s CAP climate change portfolio, which includes three projects awarded in 2010 focusing on loblolly pine in the South, corn production in the Midwest and wheat crops in the Northwest.

NIFA made the awards through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funding opportunity. AFRI’s Climate Variability and Change challenge area is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest production systems and preparing the nation’s agriculture and forests to adapt to changing climates.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor

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