By Hannah Packman, NFU Communications Coordinator
Climate science, a multidisciplinary field that addresses the causes and effects of climate change, predicts future trends, and establishes mitigation and adaptation practices, is increasingly vital as extreme temperatures and erratic weather become more common. We all benefit from climate change research, but it is particularly critical for family farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods depend on up-to-date data and innovative technology.
Currently, more than 70% of all research and development, including agriculturally-related endeavors, is funded by the business sector. Although some of the resulting information is undoubtedly valuable, corporate involvement has its drawbacks; business interests can cause bias in methodology, analysis, and reporting, leading to the dissemination of flawed or even false information. As such, publicly funded, independent, and peer-reviewed agricultural research is essential to accurately inform both farmers and policy makers.
The U.S. government has historically dedicated significant federal resources towards studying climate change. In 1989, a presidential initiative established the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which Congress mandated a year later with the Global Change Research Act of 1990, requiring the development of “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” USGCRP coordinates the efforts of thirteen agencies that conduct climate research, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Over the past three decades, these organizations have collectively made significant advances in global change science.
Farmers and ranchers rely on all thirteen organizations housed within USGCRP, but perhaps most important are the climate services offered by the USDA. According to USGCRP’s website, USDA’s Climate Change Research Program “empowers land managers, policy makers, and its agencies with science-based knowledge to manage the risks and opportunities posed by climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance carbon sequestration.” This is achieved through a combination of research, programmatic and operational support, and outreach and education. One of USDA’s most recent programs, its Regional Climate Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation, encompasses all of these methods by developing and distributing regional-specific and science-based information and technologies to help producers make and implement climate-informed decisions.
Unfortunately, climate science is at risk under President Trump’s federal budget proposal, which includes deep cuts to all thirteen of USGCRP’s agencies. Many of the targets are agriculturally specific; it cuts conservation programs within the farm bill by $6 billion, and the USDA’s discretionary spending, which funds, among other things, conservation and research, by $4.7 billion, or 21 percent. The cuts are not unique to agricultural programs, however – the budget slashes funding to every other agency that addresses climate change. The EPA, which regulates air, water, land, endangered species, hazardous waste, and pesticides, would lose 31% of its current budget, more than any other agency. Additionally, it would cut funding to the NOAA – which includes the National Weather Service, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, and the National Integrated Drought Information System – by 17%, the Energy Department’s Office of Science by 17%, the NASA’s Earth science program by $102 million, the United States Geological Survey by $57 million, the Global Climate Change Initiative by $4.2 million, and the National Science Foundation by 11%.
These organizations collectively provide data and analyses essential to understanding, mitigating, and establishing resilience to climate change. Cutting their budgets, and in turn their staff and resources, would handicap their ability to perform this crucial task, ultimately threatening family farmers and ranchers and the national food security they provide.
Have you used federally-funded climate research? Which resources have you found most helpful? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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