USDA Field Staff Surveys

USDA field staff prepare for more extreme and variable weather and climate: A national survey of FSA and NRCS employees

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff are in a unique position to support farmers, ranchers, and foresters to effectively adapt to changing weather patterns and climatic conditions through indemnities, low-cost farm loans, conservation programs, and conservation technical assistance. NRCS and FSA’s numerous field staff are in frequent contact with land managers through the administration of these programs. Prior to the Climate Hubs, no national efforts had been taken to understand prepared, or equipped field staff are to support land managers in adapting to more extreme and variable weather or climate.

In order to better support NRCS and FSA in their climate and weather information needs, the Climate Hubs developed and administered two surveys to determine, (a) the level of knowledge about climate change that NRCS and FSA field staff possess, (b) the degree to which those field staffs are comfortable, or confident supporting farmers and ranchers on climate resiliency, and (c) the climate and weather stressors and related impacts about which service providers are most concerned.

Once a baseline of these three variables is established, targeted professional development opportunities can be made available to ensure that field staff are poised to serve their clients in the context of more variable and extreme weather events driven by climate change. 

The surveys were collaboratively designed and administered by the USDA Climate Hubs, NRCS, FSA, and the University of Vermont. The survey results capture NRCS and FSA employee perceptions and concerns related to the causes and effects of climate change on agriculture and forestry systems. Additional survey questions explored the types of climate and weather tools staff currently use in their work with land managers. The surveys were based on a template developed for the Useful to Useable project (https://mygeohub.org/groups/u2u) (See Prokopy et al. 2013), and were administered in November and December of 2016 (FSA), and February and March of 2017 (NRCS).

Peer Reviewed Publications: Farm service agency employee intentions to use weather and climate data in professional services (open access link)

References: Prokopy, L. S., Haigh, T., Mase, A. S., Angel, J., Hart, C., Knutson, C., Lemos, M. C., Lo, Y.-J., McGuire, J., Morton, L. W., Perron, J., Todey, D. and Widhalm, M. (2013) ‘Agricultural advisors: a receptive audience for weather and climate information?’, Weather, Climate, and Society, 5(2), pp. 162–167. doi: 10.1175/WCAS-D-12-00036.1.