This page is intended to be a source of information for agricultural producers and management professionals on how to make their operations more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather and climate events. Our Team is dedicated to providing you with real stories from real producers in our region.
This information is available as regularly updated blogs, videos, podcasts, and public service announcements.
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Blog: Southern Plains Perspective
Sharing information on strategies to help agriculture and rural communities to deal with climate change and other natural resource challenges.
Rainfall famine to feast…will the 2023-24 El Niño be a strong one?
A few weeks ago I wrote in this blog space about how folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were predicting that we were in for an El Niño weather pattern later this year (https://southernplainsperspective.wordpress.com/2023/05/22/el-nino-comethmaybe/). Sure enough, NOAA is now calling the chance of El Niño later this summer to be 90%--and more and more it looks like it could be a strong one.
If you remember some of our past podcasts with the Oklahoma State Climatologist Gary McManus or Victor Murphy at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas, again and again we heard that even if we have an El Niño develop, it won’t have much of an impact in North Texas and Oklahoma if it isn’t a “strong” El Niño, defined as having a high Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) which is the rolling 3-month average temperature anomaly—difference from average—in the surface waters of the east-central tropical Pacific near the equator.
Well, guess what----we may be in for it.
According to a study published in April in the Journal Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Research, the increase that we are seeing in global temperatures may be resulting in higher-than-normal temperatures in the waters of the east-central Pacific. Research has already shown that the ocean heat content in 2022 was the hottest ever recorded-a record that we may very well break in 2023. As the Pacific Ocean heat content rises, so does the likelihood of a very strong El Niño cycle.
Does this change in temperature and ocean heat content automatically mean we are in for a super-strong El Niño cycle like the one we last saw in 2015? Not necessarily, but it does help increase the likelihood that we could see a definite change in the weather (at least in Oklahoma and Texas and if it's strong enough, maybe even Kansas). If this trend continues warmer, wet winters and more precipitation in the spring could be on the horizon. If the El Niño is indeed strong, we also could see heavy, violent rain events and potentially flooding (remember the wettest month EVER in the history of Oklahoma and Texas was May 2015—during a super strong El Niño event).
Now might be a good time to do a little planning on how you would deal with these types of events. Are you taking steps to control the sheet, gulley and rill erosion that come with heavy rainstorms? Do you have ponds and other storage and impoundment structures that can hold on to rain water for future use? Have you worked to improve the health of your soil and increase its water holding capacity?
We may or may not have a strong El Niño and with it, heavy rain events. The worst time to plan for a flood however is when you see the water rising.
May 25, 2023
USDA is rolling out clean energy grants and preparing the grid for crazy weather.
Generally, I focus on issues dealing with agriculture, weather, climate and conservation on this blog space, but something big happened this month. In what is being touted as the single largest investment in rural power infrastructure since the original passage of the 1936 Rural Electrification act, USDA rolled out nearly $11 billion in clean energy grants to electric cooperatives, municipalities and investor-owned utilizes in rural areas across the nation through two new loan and grant programs-the Empowering Rural America Program (ERA) and the Powering Affordable Clean Energy Program (PACE).
The first (and larger) program, the ERA, provides roughly $9.7 billion to build renewable energy programs, carbon capture systems and zero-emissions projects just for Rural Electric Cooperatives (RECs). The small PACE program provides $1 billion for partially forgivable loans to renewable energy developers and electric power producers including not just RECs but also municipal and investor-owned utilities in rural areas to help cover the cost of large-scale wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, geothermal and energy storage projects.
All of this has the potential to expand USDA’s utility lending to as high as $2.7 billion and help meet the goal that has been set by the Federal Government of having 100% clean energy by 2035.
In addition, the dollars are being targeted in an effort to not just expand clean energy in Rural America, but to also make the overall rural electric system more resilient—something that has taken on more urgency as we have seen an increase in extreme weather events.
All of this comes on top of the $10.5 billion that was invested last January through the Grid Resilience and Innovation and Partnership Program (GRIP), itself a major investment designed to help “harden” the nations power grid to extreme weather.
As someone who lives in Rural America, who is a member of an electric cooperative and has been without power for over a month in the depths of winter thanks to record ice storms in 2002, I understand the importance of strengthening our electrical system to extreme weather. We need to get ready for these kinds of shocks in the future and these dollars should help us get there.
May 19, 2023
Nearly 10 billion people will be here by 2050 and we keep losing soil to erosion while carbon dioxide levels are rising. At least things aren’t boring.
Don’t be alarmed, but we have a lot of work to do.
By 2050 it’s estimated that there will be roughly 9.8 billion people on the globe, more than in the entire history of our species. That is a scary thought when you consider that a 2022 study led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst estimated that, since Euro-American settlement approximately 160 years ago, agricultural fields in the midwestern U.S. may have lost, on average, two millimeters of soil per year--nearly double the rate of erosion that the USDA considers sustainable. In fact, this study concludes that current USDA estimates of erosion (which are high enough in their own right) may be between three and eight times lower than what the researchers involved in this effort think is happening.
Regardless of what the number is, it’s disconcerting.
I can hear some of you now saying “gee this sounds familiar. Haven’t you written about all this before?”
Yes, yes, I have.
I have written several blogs about how we need to get our farms in the fight to feed this growing population and how soil erosion is a quiet crisis that we ignore at our own peril. And while I apologize for sounding somewhat like a broken record, I truly feel that we need to do what we can to get ahead of these challenges.
Now today I came across a story about a study conducted by the USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) on how certain varieties of wheat react to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2); specifically wheat varieties that are resistant to Fusarium, a fungus that thrives under warm, wet conditions and causes Fusarium head blight, a costly disease of wheat, barley and oats that can damage the grain and contaminate it with mycotoxins, rendering the grain unsafe for food or feed use. The purpose of this research was to try and develop a strategy to get ahead of the metabolic response these resistant wheat varieties have to high levels of CO2; specifically, the build-up of starch and other carbohydrates that corresponds to a drop in grain protein and mineral levels.
You see, all things being equal, overall grain yields tend to increase when CO2 levels rise while at the same time showing an overall decrease in nutritional value. But that’s not all—the ARS research on this issue suggests that as wheat plants lose nutrients, they also increase their risk of mycotoxin contamination, threatening grain end-use quality, potentially delivering an economic hit to both wheat growers and millers while also reducing the overall amount of grain we have to feed this growing world population.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), CO2 levels are now more than 50% higher than they were in the 18th century (pre-industrial revolution). In fact, they have gone up over 100 parts per million since 1958. More CO2 means more challenges feeding all those people (I haven’t even touched on what temperature changes can do to grain). And if you have ever seen anyone conduct the “earth as an apple” demonstration you already know that only a very small fraction of the planet can actually produce food and fiber. With the amount of soil we lose each year to erosion, we have some real challenges ahead.
All this said there is some good news. The research that ARS conducted on wheat and carbon dioxide provides solid information to help crop breeders shore up wheat's climate resiliency. It is also helping guide growers to adopt crop management strategies that could offset wheat's metabolic responses to high CO2 levels and, in turn, the likelihood of mycotoxin contamination.
We also know that we can do a lot to reduce soil erosion. From the days of the Dust Bowl to today, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (supported by research by ARS and Universities) has been providing agriculture producers with financial and technical assistance to help address soil loss and other natural resource challenges. As always, farmers and ranchers can touch base with their local USDA Service Center to see what type of help is available.
There are a lot of obstacles out there when it comes to meeting the challenge of feeding the world. We need to do all we can to get ahead of the curve.
May 12, 2023
El Niño cometh……(maybe)
May 5, 2023
Soil erosion costs money!!!!!!
April 26, 2023
Whither the 100th Meridian…has the dryline moved east?
April 19, 2023
Goodwell, Oklahoma---the “New Death Valley?”
April 12, 2023
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and agriculture—there is a lot to unpack here.
April 6, 2023
Hack, cough, and sneeze…allergy season is getting longer (thank you changing climate).
March 28, 2023
Random climate smart agriculture thoughts and stories…cover crops, soil health, grazing research etc.
March 22, 2023
Flexibility, not dogma, is the key to climate-smart agriculture
March 14, 2023
Podcasts: Southern Plains Podcast
Special Episode, Victor Murphy, National Weather Service
In this special edition, of the podcast we again talk to Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas about current conditions in the Southern Plains and what we can expect weather-wise over the next few months. (Recorded May 15, 2023)
#68, Dana Ashley Kornburger, NRCS National Climate Coordinator
In this episode of the podcast, we visit with Dana Ashley Kornbuger, the National Climate Coordinator at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) about the work the agency is doing to help farmers and ranchers adapt to our changing climate while addressing some of the climate changes root causes. (Recorded May 1, 2023)
Special Episode, Gary McManus, Oklahoma State Climatologist
In this episode of the podcast, we visit with Oklahoma State Climatologist Gary McManus about current weather conditions in Oklahoma and the region and what the outlook shows moving forward through the Spring, Summer, and Fall. (Recorded April 5, 2023)
Special Episode, Matthew Sittel, Asst. Kansas Climatologist
In this special episode of the podcast, we visit with Matthew Sittel, the Assistant State Climatologist for the State of Kansas about the ongoing drought, current weather conditions, and what the outlook shows moving forward through the spring and summer. (Recorded March 23, 2023)
#67, Dr. Kevin Wagner, Director, Water Resources Center at Oklahoma State University - Virtual Fencing
In this episode of the podcast, we visit with Dr. Kevin Wagner, head of the Water Resources Center at Oklahoma State University about their research work with virtual fencing systems and how these systems could help producers and assist in natural resource work. (Recorded March 9, 2023)
Special Episode, Victor Murphy, National Weather Service, Ft. Worth, TX
In this episode of the podcast, we again visit with Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service in Ft. Worth, Texas about the current weather conditions in the region and what the outlook shows over the next few weeks and months.
#66, Adam York, Sustainability Director, National Sorghum Producers - Climate Smart Commodities Initiative with Sorghum
In our latest podcast episode, we visit with Adam York, Sustainability Director for the National Sorghum Producers, about their new climate-smart commodities initiative with USDA and how grain sorghum can be part of how producers deal with extreme weather challenges. (Recorded February 13, 2023)
#65, Dr. Jean Steiner, Science Coordinator, Sustainable SW Beef Project
The Ogallala Aquifer has a huge impact on agriculture and communities throughout the western portion of the Great Plains. In this episode of the podcast, we visit with Dr. Jean Steiner, Adjunct Professor at Kansas State University and Science Coordinator with the Sustainable Southwest Beef Project about some of the challenges facing the Aquifer in Kansas as well as some of the ways that producers can help extend the life of this critical resource. (Recorded January 25, 2023)
Special Episode, Victor Murphy, National Weather Service, Ft. Worth, TX
In this special episode of the podcast, we again visit with Victor Murphy from the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas about the latest weather conditions in Oklahoma and Texas and what the outlook is like moving forward through January and on into spring. (Recorded January 10, 2023)
#64, Julian Reyes, National Coordinator, USDA Climate Hubs Network, Washington D.C.
In this last episode of 2022, we visit with Julian Reyes, the National Coordinator of the USDA Climate Hub Network in Washington, D.C. Julian talks to us about the History of the Hubs, the work they do, and what some of the initiatives in store for 2023. (Recorded December 30, 2022)
Special Episode, Matthew Sittel, Kansas Assistant State Climatologist
In this special episode of the podcast, we visit with Matthew Sittel, Assistant State Climatologist in Kansas. Mr. Sittel talks to us about the Kansas Mesonet system, the current drought impacting his state, and what the weather forecast looks like for Kansas moving forward over the next few weeks and months. (Recorded December 20, 2022)
#63, Amanda Mathis, Acting Oklahoma NRCS State Conservationist
In this episode of the podcast, we visit with Amanda Mathis, the Acting State Conservationist for NRCS in Oklahoma. Amanda talks to us about her work for NRCS both as acting State Conservationist in Oklahoma and as the Assistant Conservationist for Partners in Arkansas and about some of the current initiatives at NRCS including the ongoing work to help producers through the drought and the upcoming push for Climate Smart Conservation practices funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. (Recorded November 30, 2022)
Videos: Southern Plains Perspective
Voices from the Drought: Daryl Donohue, South East Kansas
In this latest video in our ongoing "Voices from the drought" series we visit with Daryl Donohue from South East Kansas about the impact the drougth is having on his operation and how some of the practices he has implemented on his land have helped deal with the dry conditions. (Recorded January 22, 2023)
Voices from the Drought: Michael Thompson, Northwest Kansas
In this latest video in our ongoing "Voices from the drought" series we visit with Michael Thompson from Almena, Kansas. Mr. Thompson talks to us about the impact the drought has had on his operation this year, his plans moving forward over the winter and spring and how soil health practices have helped him better weather the dry conditions. (Recorded January 4, 2023).
Voices from the Drought: Laura Gay Burdick, Palo Pinto County Texas
This is the first in our series of videos highlighting the impact of the ongoing drought on farmers and ranchers in the Southern Plains region of the United States. In this video we visit with Laura Gay Burdick, a rancher from Palo Pinto County Texas and the Chair of her local Soil and Water Conservation District Board about the impact the drought is having on her operation. (Recorded October 6, 2022).
Voices from the Drought: Matt Muller, Martha Oklahoma
This is the second video in our series "Voices from the Drought." In this short video we visit with Matt Muller, a cotton, wheat and grain sorghum producer from Southwest Oklahoma about the impact the drought is having on his operation this year and how some of his practices are helping him cope. (Recorded October 20, 2022)
Public Service Announcements (PSA)
The Southern Plains Climate Hub, in partnership with Redlands Community College and USDA NRCS, is promoting soil health as a tool for climate change adaptation and to help producers adapt to extreme weather events. As part of this promotional effort, the Hub is developing a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) featuring producers from across the Southern Plains speaking on the benefits of soil health management.
Kenneth McAlister grows cotton, corn, milo, canola, wheat, sesame, peanuts and soybeans near the Red River in Wichita County Texas. He has been no-tilling his land since 2005 and has been utilizing cover crops for the last 4 years.
Scott Carpenter is a conservation district director and wheat producer from Nocona, Texas. He utilizes cover crops and no-till on his land to hold on to more water and reduce erosion on his land.
A cotton, peanut, corn and wheat producer from Morton Texas, Glen Lyon rotates crops on his 7,500 acre farm to reduce erosion and increase the water holding capacity of the soil.
A Farmer and Rancher from Norton, Kansas, Rusty Miller understands the importance of controlling erosion and increasing soil moisture. Rusty incorporates cover crops and grazing into his cropping systems to help increase the health of his soil and improve his bottom line by reducing fuel costs and increasing fertilizer efficiency.
Michael Thompson is a farmer/rancher from Almena, KS. Michael along with his father Richard and his brother Brian operate Thompson Farm & Ranch LLC. The farm is comprised of acreage in Norton County, KS, and Furnas County, NE, and grows wheat, corn, oats, barley, as well as cover crop cocktails. The ranch consists of a cow/calf operation that grazes on native range and diverse cover crops on farmland acres.
Lance Feikert is the fifth generation farmer and rancher from Bucklin, Kansas. He raises wheat, milo and soybeans on dryland and irrigated acres. He also utilizes cattle in his operation to better utilize crops and encourage better soil health.With less water available to pump each year, many of his irrigated fields are becoming more like their dryland counterparts. No-till helps him make the most of limited resources. Lance says no-till practices improve the microbial community under the soil and helps increase water infiltration.
Steve Pope is a 6th generation Western Oklahoma farmer and rancher. He has been no-tilling for over 13 years and incorporates cover crops and grazing into his cropping systems. Steve participates in USDA conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
Jimmy Emmons is a life-long farmer and ranchers from Leedey, Oklahoma. A local conservation district board member and a past President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), Jimmy knows the importance of conserving our soil, water, air and wildlife habitats while working to protect the bottom lines of agriculture producers.
Grant Victor is a Northeast Oklahoma agriculture producer and the winner of the 2016 Outstanding Landowner Award from the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. A life-long resident of Afton, Oklahoma, Grant uses soil health practices to improve productivity on his land while controlling run-off and soil erosion.