Hundreds of years ago, farmers plowed their fields by hand and predicted the weather by gazing into the sky and sniffing the air. Today's farms are much more advanced, yet their success still depends largely on meeting the challenges posed by forces beyond their control — the weather.
That’s why the agriculture industry has long relied on NOAA’s weather and climate information to improve agricultural planning, management and decision-making. Specifically, NOAA's climate data is used for longer-term planning, while NOAA's weather forecasts and short-term climate outlooks assist with both seasonal and short-term agricultural management.
As the growing season approaches, agricultural producers don’t have a lot of time to make production decisions. Long before they even touch their fields, they must decide what type, where and how many acres of crops will be planted, and/or how many cattle will be sold, bought and bred. Once plans are made, they must sit back hoping their final choices pay off. During the growing season, farmers must make additional crop planning and management decisions on a daily basis. Getting the most accurate weather information can greatly assist farmers with these decisions.
Historical climate information such as drought vulnerability, mean/extreme temperatures and precipitation, and the length of the growing season helps farmers determine the most profitable product for their region.
NOAA’s U.S. Drought Watch provides up-to-date information on drought presence and severity in the United States. Knowing precipitation for their area gives farmers time to plan for and adapt to drought conditions, such as planting drought resistant crops in lieu of traditional crops. Drought costs an estimated $6-8 billion annually across all sectors of the economy, making NOAA’s drought information critical to farmers and the agriculture industry.
Monitoring variations in our climate, such as changes in the Pacific Ocean's El Niño-Southern Oscillation (known as ENSO), also helps with long-term agricultural planning. Because annual rainfall and temperatures vary greatly between the different ENSO phases — an El Niño, La Niña, or neutral year — famers may need to make adjustments to reduce crop vulnerability to abnormal weather conditions. Research indicates that NOAA’s ENSO forecasting benefits U.S. agricultural decision making by as much as $507 – $959 million/year, proving the economic ties between climate information and agriculture to be considerable.
During the growing season, farmers rely on NOAA forecasts of the onset, frequency, location, duration and intensity of weather and short-term climate events to make better choices each and every day. Specifically, NOAA’s weekly/monthly local and regional weather forecasts provide information that helps farmers with operational decisions such as when to irrigate, plant, apply fertilizers and pesticides, and harvest crops. It is expected that NOAA’s GOES-R satellite, due to launch around 2015, will improve weather forecasts leading to more efficient crop irrigation valued at $61 million in 2015 and $1.09 billion from 2015-2027.
NOAA’s climate/weather products and services helps keep farmers seeing green both in terms of healthy crops and profits. The next time you go to the local grocery store, remember that NOAA may have played a helping hand in growing the products you purchase.