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Climate, social scientists help refine ag climate tools

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Source/Author: Kelly Helm Smith, NDMC 03/19/14

A screenshot of AgClimate View DST.

Climate and social science researchers at UNL's School of Natural Resources and National Drought Mitigation Center helped develop AgClimate View DST and Corn Growing Degree Day DST, which are U2U -- Useful to Usable -- products that help farmers manage increasingly variable weather and climate conditions.

"Our social science research on the front end helped our team of climate experts, economists and agronomists create easy to use tools that make climate data accessible and useful to the agricultural community. We'd like to think we are demystifying climate data one user at a time and hope producers will use the information to make better decisions and ultimately increase yields with minimal environmental impact," said Linda Stalker Prokopy, associate professor of natural resource social science at Purdue University and U2U project director.

The U2U research team includes climatologists, social scientists and other researchers from institutions across the Corn Belt.

AgClimate View DST provides access to customized historical climate and crop yield data for the U.S. Corn Belt. Users can view graphs of monthly temperature and precipitation, plot corn and soybean yield trends, and compare climate and yields over the past 30 years.

Corn Growing Degree Day DST allows users to track real-time and historical GDD accumulations, assess spring and fall frost risk, and guide decisions related to planting, harvest and seed selection. This innovative tool integrates corn development stages with weather and climate data for location-specific decision support tailored specifically to agricultural production.

Both tools are designed for agricultural advisors and producers in the North Central region of the United States as well as Kentucky and Tennessee. The U2U DST Suite can be accessed via U2U’s web portal.

"We engaged potential users throughout the process, and they really shaped what's in the tools,” said Tonya Haigh, a rural sociologist at UNL's National Drought Mitigation Center who also helped conduct surveys of farmers and farm advisers. Preliminary focus groups in Nebraska in early 2013 helped determine which tools to make first, and later focus groups in the summer and fall helped refine prototypes. "Crop advisers, the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and farmers were all able to give us feedback before the tools were released."

Martha Shulski, director of the High Plains Regional Climate Center based in SNR, provided technical and scientific support in developing the tools. "The Center is pleased to be a part of this multidisciplinary team and lend our expertise in climatological data support and services," Shulski said. "We also look forward to hosting these decision support tools at the conclusion of the U2U project so the products continue to aid producer decisions into the future."

Tapan Pathak, Extension educator in climate variability, also at SNR, has been working with farmers to increase awareness of the tools. He presented the two new U2U tools at eight crop production clinics across Nebraska in January, reaching about 1,700 people, including producers, crop consultants, and Extension faculty and staff, and observed steadily growing interest.

Useful to Usable is a USDA-funded research and extension project designed to improve the resilience and profitability of U.S. farms in the Corn Belt amid a variable and changing climate. The project is comprised of a team of 50 faculty, staff and students from nine North Central universities with expertise in applied climatology, crop modeling, agronomy, cyber-technology, agricultural economics and other social sciences.

Others at UNL who are part of the U2U project are Cody Knutson, who heads the NDMC's planning and social science program area, Juliana Dai, SNR graduate student and Roger Elmore, systems agronomist at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute.

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