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NC1018: Impact of Climate and Soils on Crop Selection and Management (NC094 Renewal)

Statement of Issues and Justification

Production agriculture is undergoing a continuous change as more technology becomes ingrained in production of crops. Yield monitors, crop modeling and computation power have become extremely important to most producers to increase production and their economic viability. One constant in production agriculture, though, is the variability in weather and climate and the inability to control this factor in crop production. Current forecasts generally do not give producers the guidance needed to make proper decisions. Producers are left with options to try to mitigate the effects of weather, whether by irrigation in rain limited areas, or changing management or reacting to disease outbreaks which occur in conjunction with weather changes. New and improved tools are necessary for producers to make better use of resources and market crops better, and be proactive in their decision-making. Therefore, further understanding about crop-climate interactions and better decision-making tools are necessary to help producers make better use of financial and natural resources. Included in these are improved forecasts and understanding of crop reaction to variable climatic conditions.

The North Central region is one of the most intensely cultivated areas for row crop production. Thus, members of the committee have vested interests in developing new tools for use across the region for the major crops, which have the greatest economic impact across the region when crops losses occur by drought or disease. The interaction among the states of the region and cooperators in other regions has been successful in reaching previous objectives related to crop-climate interaction. Because the interaction of climate, soil and crop productivity crosses political boundaries, the most effective effort to reaching goals is to work in a multi-state effort. The goals set forth here can only be reached if the variety of expertise of the committee can be shared across the region in solving regional problems.

Often the limitation of crop modeling and development of decision-making tools is a lack of comprehensive data to verify models and validate decision tools or the data are not spatially or temporally consistent over a large region. The regional research committee (current NC-94) has a strong and extensive history of developing, verifying and validating agricultural databases (climates, crops and soils) in the North Central Region. The compilation of a current 30 year county-level crop-climate-soil database along with having committee members with a wide variety of expertise allows the committee to move forward in developing decision-making tools to improve crop, irrigation and disease management for major crops across the North Central Region and other cooperating areas.

The current database development has been focused on producing a continuous high quality county-level data of commonly measured quantities of air temperature, precipitation, crop yield and soils data. Recent work as an outcome of the last 5-year plan of work has expanded the database to include solar radiation for crop modeling. The committee is now poised to capitalize on this database, using the expertise in the committee to add some critical values still necessary to understand crop interaction with the atmosphere, and consequently crop productivity, including soil moisture, soil temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction and evapo-transpiration. The data gathered will be used to support other efforts in crop modeling, decision-making strategies and risk assessment tools over the region. Other current issues require looking for integration and comparison of data to more completely represent atmospheric conditions.

These data are necessary for many regulatory issues such as pesticide drift and odor movement associated with confinement operations. Homeland security issues have also become concerned with the density of wind measurements and other atmospheric data for distribution of biological agents. But these measurements are generally not spatially or temporally detailed enough for many purposes. Improvements in crop modeling and risk assessment are limited by detailed measurement of this data. This committee has the expertise to develop integrated datasets based on temperature and precipitation in the current databases. Much of the data to fill these databases would include compiled data from various data sources and networks across the region.

Groups across the country are beginning to understand the value of and accept data from a variety of data and data platforms as valid data. Work still needs to be done to compare the data from various sources to develop relationships between variables gathered from different networks. Members of this committee have been actively involved in this effort for several years and are poised to make progress in this area particularly in support of developing new climatologies regarding wind data, dew point data, and soil moisture data.

Comparison of differing datasets is therefore required to increase the spatial and temporal density of data gathered to support the objectives of the plan of work. Determining the soil moisture status and integrating and checking data for quality are very possible using the expertise of this committee. Developing tools explain the spatial and temporal variability in crop productivity and to develop new decision-making tools are a natural outcome of such data. These outcomes underlie the two-part objectives of the renewed NC-94 committee.

Drought has become a larger concern across particularly the western states of the current NC-94 committee. Pervasive drought and water shortages have not only limited dry-land crop productivity, but limited irrigation in many areas as irrigation water supplies have been insufficient to support minimum flows on many streams. Water rights issues have even become and issue in humid climates such as Michigan. Understanding the larger scale issues of water are very important in agriculture. But decision-making processes occur at the individual level. Members of the committee from the western states realize the need for understanding water and water use issues and have been involved in this area extensively.

Part of this issue is planning for drought and understanding the risk issues when dealing with marginal rainfall areas. This committee has a good understanding of the historical perspective of drought and its re-occurrence. The members can move forward in helping develop risk analysis tools for individuals to use for planning purposes. It is here where the intersection of knowledge of soil moisture occurs with decision-making. Understanding of current soil moisture conditions in an historical perspective is critical to proper management. There are few groups that have access to such knowledge. Decisions based on quality soil moisture measurements can assist producers to make sensible choices for profit and better use of limited resources.

In addition to water, pest pressures are another critical management decision across the region and a limitation to productivity. New insects and diseases have entered and are expected to enter the region. Several members of the committee have expertise in developing tools for pest management. Moisture again becomes a critical measurement as moisture presence is needed for many diseases. The quantity of rainfall is needed for describing the pressure by other insects, also. Concern here will be focused on but not limited to current pests as others will likely emerge in the five years of the plan of work.

While many of these issues can be addressed at smaller scales, they can be addressed more efficiently by approaching the problems at a regional scale because most of the problems are not local but are regional. Water issues and pest issues continuously cross political boundaries and can be solved only be regional cooperation.

Drought, disease and productivity have a huge economic impact on the region. Failure to address the issues facing production agriculture of the region will slow the economic growth of the states involved and limit the productivity of the region.

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