Climate Based Agricultural Risk Management Tools for Florida Georgia and Alabama USA

G. Hoogenboom • C. W. Fraisse • J. W. Jones • K. T. Ingram • J. J. O'Brien • J. G. Bellow • D. Zierden • D. E. Stooksbury • J. O. Paz • A. Garcia y Garcia • L. C. Guerra • D. Letson • N. E. Breuer • V. E. Cabrera • L. U. Hatch • C. Roncoli



The Southeast Climate Consortium was initiated in 2001 as a regional expansion of the Florida Consortium. The Florida Consortium of Universities (FLC), consisting of the University of Miami, the University of Florida, and Florida State University was formed in 1996 and was funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Office of Global Programs (NOAA-OGP) as a pilot Climate Applications Project. Following the establishment of the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) program, the FLC became the first RISA east of the Mississippi. Initial research concentrated on the use of seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts for the agricultural sector in Argentina. This focus was shifted to Florida in 1998. Following the success of the FLC in Florida, the University of Georgia was invited to join the consortium in 2001 and as a result the Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC) was formed. In 2002, Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Huntsville joined the SECC.

The SECC currently encompasses the three southeastern states of the USA, including Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. The climate of the region is complex and varied, and ranges from tropical in southern Florida to more temperate in the Florida panhandle, Alabama and Georgia. For instance, the annual average temperature in Georgia for 2004 ranged from 14 °C in the Georgia mountains to 20 °C in South Georgia. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phases have a strong impact on the interannual climate variability in the region. El Niño typically results in a wetter winter and spring and a cooler winter, while La Niña typically brings a drier fall and winter, with a warmer winter for the entire region and a cooler summer, especially in northern Alabama and Georgia.

Agriculture and its associated agribusiness is the dominant economic sector. In Georgia alone the farm gate value for 2003 was more than U.S.$9 859 million. Agriculture in the region is very diverse and includes poultry and eggs, livestock and aquaculture, and forages and row crops. The latter includes a wide range of crops such as the traditional row crops, e.g. maize, soybean, peanut, wheat, and cotton; vegetables and small fruits, e.g. strawberries, blueberries, and peaches; tropical fruit crops, e.g. citrus, as well as the emerging green industry with nurseries and turf grass. Long growing seasons allow for more than one crop to be grown during a year, especially for the shorter duration crops, such as fruits and vegetables. A crop rotation that includes multiple vegetables with staggered planting dates or wheat planted in the fall and harvested in June, followed by a late planted soybean are part of this varied cropping system.

Due to the variable weather and climate, irrigated cropping systems are very common, especially in Florida and Georgia. Close to 1.5 million acres were irrigated in Georgia alone in 2004. This allows farmers to mitigate potential droughts, such as the severe droughts that occurred in the late 1990s. As a result, the availability of water for agriculture has become an important issue due to the competition for the water needs among the public sector, especially the rapidly growing and expanding cities such as Atlanta, industry, agriculture and the need to maintain minimum water levels in streams and rivers for wildlife protection. Many of the rivers originate in Georgia and flow into eastern Alabama and the Florida panhandle. During the last two years of the drought, farmers located in the Flint River Basin in Georgia were paid not to irrigate their crops to guarantee minimum water flows into Florida. There is currently pending litigation between the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia with respect to water allocation, sometimes referred to as the "water war." Although stakeholders, including farmers, growers, producers and others in the agricultural sector, are somewhat familiar with weather-based information and tools, there is a definite need to provide more long-term information that is climate based and that can be used for strategic planning and decision-making, including long-term issues associated with drought and mitigation.



The SECC combines expertise in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, agronomic sciences, systems analysis, decision support systems, and economic and social sciences. This provides a sound scientific basis to study climate and climate variability in the southeastern USA, to study the impact of climate and climate variability on agriculture and water resource management, to develop impact analysis and decision tools for stakeholders, and to assess stakeholder and clientele response and to obtain feedback for tool and information improvement.

Key to the approach of the SECC is to develop a close link between research and extension. This is facilitated by the land-grant system that includes the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, and Auburn University. In the USA these universities traditionally have had agricultural research and extension as their primary responsibility through the Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension Service (CES). In each state the CES has an extensive network of county coordinators and agents whose main role is to disseminate information to local farmers and growers. The county agents have established a close working relationship with these local farmers and developed their trust. The SECC is planning to train the county agents on climate and climate variability, the impact on agriculture, and the use of the web-based tools. The Office of the State Climatologist in each state also plays a key role in information dissemination, especially the preparation of climate outlooks and news releases.

Based on the initial feedback obtained from farmers, climate information is being developed at a local level, rather than at a regional level. The smallest scale at which currently information is being obtained is at the county level, with 67 counties each in Alabama and Florida and 159 in Georgia. Daily weather data have been obtained from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), which maintains the archives for the Cooperative Weather Observation Network, operated by the National Weather Service

(NWS). The weather records that are available include daily maximum and minimum temperature and precipitation. For most stations at least a 40- or 50-year record exists. Procedures have also been developed to generate solar radiation, based on the daily temperature and precipitation data. One weather station with the longest and most complete record is being assigned to each county. For counties where there is no local weather station, the closest weather station is being selected.

The decision support tools that are being developed are based on the crop simulation models of the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT). The main model is the Cropping System Model (CSM), which includes the grain legume model CROPGRO for soybean and peanut and the grain cereal model CERES for maize and wheat. A model for cotton is also being developed and experiments have been conducted for initial model evaluation. To establish model credibility, crop growth and development data have been collected in farmers' field for peanut, maize, and cotton. The state-wide variety trials are being used for determining the cultivar coefficients of the most common varieties.


Information Dissemination

A special website has been established for dissemination of climate information, crop management tools, and associated decision support systems. The website,, allows for easy and rapid updating of information, such as climate outlooks and forecasts. One of the main tools is the climate tool. It includes a summary of the daily weather data base, described earlier. Once a user has selected his or her county, a monthly bar chart can be selected for each weather variable, e.g. maximum and minimum temperature, and rainfall. Based on the current ENSO phase or the ENSO phase selected by the user, different monthly means or totals are presented as well as deviations from normal. In addition, the monthly data for the previous five years can be displayed, as farmers normally have a clear memory of the past, especially with respect to extreme events. Options also exist to show cumulative probability functions and probability distribution functions for rainfall and temperature. An example is shown in Fig. 26.1 for Mitchell County, Georgia for average rainfall and deviation for El Niño; please note that the units are in English units.

The second tool is the yield risk tool, based on a summary of crop model simulations that have been run previously and have been stored in the database associated with AgClimate. The first crop for which extensive information has been developed is peanut, as it is one of main row crops in all three states and has been evaluated extensively with local data. In addition to the local weather data, the three dominant agricultural soil series have been identified for each county. The general and surface characteristics as well as horizon details are obtained from electronic databases of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The crop model is being run for all available weather years and three soil types for each county and a range of planting dates at weekly intervals that span the normal management practices of the region. The yield and yield components as simulated by the CSM model are stored in the AgClimate database. This provides quick and easy access to a summary of the simulated data for users, as it takes a significant amount of computer time to conduct these runs interactively. Similar to the climate tool, the

Fig. 26.1. Climate tool: average rainfall and deviation for the El Niño phase for Mitchell County, Georgia

user selects his or her county and one or more planting dates. The expected mean yield for each ENSO phase can then be displayed or the mean yield for the period of record. Due to the interannual weather variability the simulated yield is different for each year, Therefore, the yield can also be displayed as cumulative probability distribution functions or density histograms to account for the risks associated with each management selection or planting option. The yield tool is currently being populated for all peanut producing counties of the three states. An example for peanut for Mitchell County, Georgia, is shown in Fig. 26.2. Other crops that can be selected include tomato for south Florida and potato for the main potato producing county in Florida. Both crops were included based on prior activities of the FLC. Due to the wide range of crops, including those crops for which no computer models are available, some generic tools are also being developed, such as chilling hours and degree days with a range of base temperatures or threshold values.

Ö AgClimate - Mozflla Firefo*

Ö AgClimate - Mozflla Firefo*

Fig. 26.2. Yield risk tool: average yield for peanut for the neutral phase for Mitchell County, Georgia

Initial introduction for the concept of the AgClimate was conducted in small-group meetings with county agents and extension specialists. Due to the positive response and feedback, a commercial company was contracted for a professional implementation of the research prototypes that were developed. The design of the website by this company has been rather generic and has allowed for easy modification and updating by personnel of the SECC, rather than having to rely on professional programmers. In addition, the design of AgClimate can also be easily migrated to other regions and/or counties as long as the underlying database is populated. Due to the fact that county agents are not very familiar with the concept of climate and its applicability in agriculture, several workshops have been held during the winter of 2005. AgClimate was also presented to two panels consisting of local farmers and extension personnel from Alabama and Georgia. Based on participation of the SECC team in the Georgia Peanut County Agent Training Workshops, we found that the county agents seem to need an outlook of the expected local climate during the coming three to six months and a very clear prescription for associated management decisions with respect to which crop and cultivar to plant, when to plant and when to conduct pest, disease and weed management.


Evaluation and Impact Assessment

Weather and weather forecasts are part of the daily operation of farmers and producers. They can easily relate this information to the decisions they make, such as planting, irrigation management and pesticide applications. Although farmers are very much aware of extended droughts and the impact on their overall farming system, they do not always relate this to climate. The same applies to county and extension agents. The SECC, therefore, has implemented an evaluation and impact assessment team that will relay the needs and requests from stakeholders to the research team and develop a strong link between research and extension. It is expected that this team will also conduct user surveys and obtain feedback for impact assessment and evaluation of the usefulness of the climate-based tools and information. An initial survey was developed to evaluate how county agents perceive climate and its associated impact on crop production. This survey will be implemented on a state-by-state basis as our extension and outreach program develops. It was posted in December 2004, for the county agents in Florida and will be posted in May 2005 for the county agents in Georgia. This survey will be followed up with small-group meetings and personal interviews with county agents and producers.


The SECC is currently supported by grants and contracts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), U.S. Department of Commerce - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - Office of Global Programs - Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA), U.S. Department of Agriculture - Risk Management Agency (RMA), U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and state funds allocated to the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Auburn University, University of Florida, Florida State University and University of Georgia.

Key partners include the State Offices of Climatology for Alabama, Florida and Georgia to define research priorities and disseminate climate outlooks and forecasts and the Cooperative Extension Services for Alabama, Florida and Georgia and their extension network of extension specialists and county agents to disseminate climate-based information to growers, farmers and producers and to provide feedback for evaluation and impact assessment.

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