Drought Atlas aims to help area farmers

Published Aug 11, 2017 at 4:00pm

ITHACA — Cornell University’s Climate Smart Farming program has added a new 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.

“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.

“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.”