Climate Smart Farming adds online Northeast drought tool

Northeast Drought Atlas
The new New York State/Northeast Drought Atlas will help farmers adapt to climate change.

Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming program has added a fifth online tool – the New York State/Northeast Drought Atlas – to help farmers adapt to a warming world.

The atlas presents drought severity state-by-state, county-by-county, for the entire region from 1950 to the present. The drought maps will be updated monthly, with an online newsletter for users. The application joins the Cornell-developed Apple Stage/Freeze Damage Probability, the Grape Hardiness and Freeze Risk, the Water Deficit Calculator and the Growing Degree Day Calculator in Climate Smart Farming’s toolbox.

“The climate extremes are becoming more acute, and that certainly affects farmers,” said Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions (CICSS). “In 2016, a large portion of the Northeast saw drought conditions for the entire growing season. Farmers around the state sustained losses on all kinds of crops. After the drought, farmers told us that they need more accurate, real-time information on how the climate is changing in their specific location.”

In a bygone era, farmers used their knowledge and experience passed down from generation to generation when making farming and crop decisions, explained Jonathan Lambert, former program manager at CICSS. “As climate change continues to accelerate, what happened years ago doesn’t necessarily hold true today,” he said.

Now farmers can use a set of free tools at the Climate Smart Farming website to make more informed decisions about many agricultural practices, Lambert said. “Our goal for farmers in New York state and the Northeast is to have easy access to a repository of online decision tools,” he said.

For the new drought atlas, Toby Ault, assistant professor of atmospheric science,  worked with postdoctoral researcher Carlos Carrillo and programmer Brian Belcher, to develop the models and new tool. Concurrently, with introducing this new application, there is a free, quarterly New York State/Northeast Drought Atlas newsletter that provides practical information on drought situations. In the March newsletter, the scientists predicted drought conditions would end this summer. In the July newsletter, they suggested that wet conditions will likely last through September.

To create the apple freeze, grape hardiness and growing degree day applications, Art DeGaetano, professor of atmospheric science and director, Northeast Regional Climate Center, worked with programmer Rick Moore and the CICSS team.

The tools are being used by extension specialists and farmers. Last spring, farmers tested the apple freeze risk application when temperatures dipped far below freezing. Producers used the water deficit calculator, which came online late last summer, to grapple with drought. At a recent regional conference for organic growers, one farmer said he used the growing degree day application, coupled with integrated pest management strategies and the NEWA (Network for Enviro and Weather Application) to track pests – by identifying the specific growing degree days needed for certain insects to develop and mature.

Kitty O’Neil, agronomist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Northern New York, said that these tools provide critical climate information that previously was not available due to the lack of sufficient weather stations in the region. “These online instruments are great tools that are used frequently to inform and guide our area farmers, who are the front line in confronting climate change,” O’Neil said.

The Climate Smart Farming website features other online resources. Adapt-N – developed by Harold van Es, professor of soil and water management – allows farmers to precisely administer nitrogen to corn. The COMET-Farm application, developed by Colorado State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, estimates and evaluates a farm’s carbon footprint, with an eye toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Last year, we didn’t get enough water. This season we have a huge amount of rain,” said Chatrchyan. “Farmers are seeing extremes – and they are beginning to connect it to the bigger issue of a shifting climate. A majority of farmers believe that the climate is changing. And now we finally have more tools to help them reduce their risks.”

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