Government investment into agricultural research appears to have paid off, according to the latest announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Government investment into agricultural research appears to have paid off, according to the latest announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers, ranchers, and water managers may soon have a powerful new online tool to help them track droughts. This tool could help better direct farm loans to farmers most in need and could help farmers base their planting on the potential path of droughts and water shortages. The announcement of the new modeling system, the brainchild of two USDA scientists, is being hailed as evidence of the importance of federal farm loans, subsidies, and research grants.
The tool in question is an evapotranspiration and drought modeling system developed at the Agricultural Research Service’s Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Maryland. The system, which could help researchers track and predict drought patterns, could also help revolutionize the distribution of farm loans, allowing farmers to better predict when they will may need access to credit and for how long. The modeling system is expected to be particularly useful as many regions in the United States are expected to undergo considerable ecological transformations as a result of global climate change. Farm loans to respond to disasters, including droughts, are expected to become increasingly necessary in parts of Texas, Florida, and the Southwest, all of which may face increasing occurrences of droughts and water shortages as weather patterns change.
The program could revolutionize farm loans and the distribution of agricultural aid through its unique modeling system, which uses thermal imaging satellites to calculate soil temperature to create evapotranspiration maps, which measure the amount of evaporation escaping from plants and soil. Mapping water evaporation and water stress could allow administrators to tailor farm loans and farm grants to address the needs of farmers in ecologically vulnerable areas. In addition, mapping the patterns of droughts could help farmers alter their planting accordingly, allowing them to avoid major crop losses and avoid reliance on emergency farm loans.
Some agricultural officials have held up the development of the monitoring system as proof of the importance of agricultural funding. In a political climate dominated by shrinking budgets and expanding deficits, agricultural spending and government support of low-interest farm loans are under siege by deficit hawks in both houses of Congress. Continued agricultural research is necessary in order to fund further technological breakthroughs, scientists say. More importantly, given the potential for upcoming global famines, expanding access to farm loans, farm credit, and farm research is necessary to guarantee a sustainable future for the agricultural sector.