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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Climate Forecasts: Emerging Potential to Reduce Dryland Farmers' Risks

Authors
item Steiner, Jean
item Schneider, Jeanne
item Garbrecht, Jurgen
item Zhang, Xunchang

Submitted to: Soil Science Society of America Special Publication Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: August 9, 2003
Publication Date: June 30, 2004
Citation: Steiner, J.L., Schneider, J.M., Garbrecht, J.D., Zhang, X.J. 2004. Climate forecasts: emerging potential to reduce dryland farmers' risks. In: Rao, S.C., Ryan, J., editors. Challenges and Strategies of Dryland Agriculture. Special publication number 32. Madison, WI: Soil Science Society of America. p. 47-65.

Interpretive Summary: Strategies are needed to improve lives of people in harsh, dryland regions. If the upcoming season's climate was predictable, farmers could tailor practices to match anticipated climate, reducing risks in poorer seasons, while investing more to benefit from favorable seasons. Such a possibility has long been a dream, but there is reason for optimism that our ability to predict climate is improving. In this paper we describe climate forecasts and discuss potential applications at the farm level. Climate forecasts include local early indicators of future climate, correlation of local climate to global processes, and dynamic modeling of climate processes. Operational forecasts offer potential to guide production decisions, such as crop species or cultivar selection, fertility management, area to be planted, pest management, intensity and timing of grazing and purchase, sale, or movement of animals. Management decisions related to marketing, labor, and diversification; or regional decisions relating to input supply, markets, transportation, storage, or community health services could also be guided by climate forecasts. Forecasts have sufficient utility to guide decision making in some regions for some seasons. To move forward, continued improvement and evaluation of forecasts skill are needed. Forecasting tools for regions that gain little from current forecasts and forecasts of extreme events should be a focus. Uncertainty analysis for scenario simulation, tools to assess trade-offs within a whole farm context, and better methods to communicate probabilistic outcomes are needed. Perhaps most critical is engagement of farmers as partners in development of new tools to support decision making on-farm, and using seasonal climate forecasts within the context of overall risk analysis and management of an agricultural system.

Technical Abstract: Strategies are needed to improve lives of people in harsh, dryland regions. If the upcoming season's climate was predictable, farmers could tailor practices to match anticipated climate, reducing risks in poorer seasons, while investing more to benefit from favorable seasons. Such a possibility has long been a dream, but there is reason for optimism that our ability to predict climate is improving. In this paper we describe climate forecasts and discuss potential applications at the farm level. Climate forecasts include local early indicators of future climate, correlation of local climate to global processes, and dynamic modeling of climate processes. Operational forecasts offer potential to guide production decisions, such as crop species or cultivar selection, fertility management, area to be planted, pest management, intensity and timing of grazing and purchase, sale, or movement of animals. Management decisions related to marketing, labor, and diversification; or regional decisions relating to input supply, markets, transportation, storage, or community health services could also be guided by climate forecasts. Forecasts have sufficient utility to guide decision making in some regions for some seasons. To move forward, continued improvement and evaluation of forecasts skill are needed. Forecasting tools for regions that gain little from current forecasts and forecasts of extreme events should be a focus. Uncertainty analysis for scenario simulation, tools to assess trade-offs within a whole farm context, and better methods to communicate probabilistic outcomes are needed. Perhaps most critical is engagement of farmers as partners in development of new tools to support decision making on-farm, and using seasonal climate forecasts within the context of overall risk analysis and management of an agricultural system.

Last Modified: 11/21/2014
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