Tools

The tools presented below represent a portion of the tools available for the climate, agriculture and forestry sectors. The tools range from specialized calculators to maps, models and datasets estimating a variety of outputs (e.g., crop production, greenhouse gas flux, and species distribution). Certain tools may be more relevant to land managers to aid in year-to-year decision-making, while others are more useful for researchers studying agriculture and climate change. Keep in mind that all tools have limitations and make assumptions that may not be appropriate for an entity’s climate/region/crop/soil type. USDA does not endorse the tools presented below. The tool list is provided for informational purposes only, and is not exhaustive.

In 2016 alone, over $100 billion worth of crops were insured by the federal crop insurance corporation administered through USDA RMA. This program is essentially a safety net to mitigate natural perils (e.g., drought) and price decline effects on agricultural production. Data are available from the USDA RMA on insurance payouts, or indemnities. These data also report the specific causes of loss, or reasons for crop loss, that triggered indemnities.

The AgRisk Viewer brings “to life” publicly-available cause of loss data from the USDA RMA. The viewer allows user-defined selection and visualization of several dataset components: spatial resolution (i.e., county-level, state-level, national), temporal resolution (i.e., monthly, annual), time period (1989-2016), cause of loss (e.g., drought, excess moisture, hail, wind, etc.), commodity (e.g., wheat, soybeans, corn, etc.), and variable of interest (e.g., indemnity, acres affected).

Three outcomes are associated with the development of the AgRisk Viewer:

  1. Increased accessibility, discoverability, and usability of crop insurance loss data by our partners and stakeholders,
  2. Co-creation of research questions and projects using crop loss data to identify those agricultural production risk “hot spots” leading towards targeted adaptation,
  3. Sustained engagement with our USDA sister agencies including the RMA and their regional offices, as well as cooperative extension, land-grant universities, commodity groups, and the broader public.

AgRisk Viewer: Managing agricultural risk in a changing climate

An image describing the components used to build Grass-Cast.

Every spring, ranchers face the same difficult challenge – trying to guess how much grass will be available for livestock to graze during the upcoming summer. An innovative published its first forecast on May 22, 2018 to help producers in the Northern Great Plains reduce this economically important source of uncertainty.

Grass-Cast indicates for ranchers and rangeland managers what productivity is likely to be in the upcoming growing season relative to their own county’s 34-year history. Ranchers and rangeland managers will need to combine the forecast information with their knowledge of local soils, plant communities, topography, and other conditions as part of their decision-making process.

Grass-Cast also provides ranchers with a view of rangeland productivity in the broader region to assist in larger-scale decision making and to determine where grazing resources might be more plentiful if their own region is at risk from drought.

Grass-Cast cannot tell the difference between desirable forage species and undesirable forage species, therefore it is important for producers to know what proportion of a pasture is occupied by weeds and how well those weeds respond to rain (or lack of rain) compared to the desirable species. Producers should monitor these different vegetation types to see if one is responding to the weather better than the other and adjust Grass-Cast’s productivity estimates accordingly.

Grass-Cast also does not directly account for local management practices, such as grazing intensity in previous years. Producers should therefore adjust Grass-Cast’s estimates accordingly.

Grass-Cast is a collaboration among the Agricultural Research Service (), the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (), the National Drought Mitigation Center (), Colorado State University, the University of Arizona, and the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub ().

Funding for this project came from the USDA ARS and NRCS, and the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Grass-Cast: Grassland Productivity Forecast