FSU receives $2.5 million to develop forecasts for farmers

Allen Boyd

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded Florida State University $2.5 million to provide climate forecasting for the agricultural community in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Allen Boyd

U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL) helped acquire the two-year grant, which begins in July 2008. The grant continues work begun in 2003 and will help fund salaries for researchers and graduate students at FSU and five other universities that together make up the Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC).

"As a fifth-generation farmer, I know how useful the information provided by climate forecasting can be, and I applaud FSU for being at the forefront of this issue through their beneficial research," Boyd said. "Climate variability and climate extremes can cost the agriculture industry billions of dollars in a single year. Knowing this information ahead of time gives farmers the opportunity to decide which crops to plant in an upcoming season. I am proud to support the high quality work and research on climate forecasting under way at FSU."

FSU scientists have cooperative investigators at the University of Florida, University of Miami, University of Georgia, Auburn University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, collectively called the Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC). James O’Brien, Emeritus Robert O. Lawton Professor of Meteorology and Oceanography, leads the FSU team.

"Climate variability in the southeastern states is largely determined by El Niño and La Niña," O’Brien said. "By understanding how these oceanic phenomena can predict climate over the southern states, we can advise farmers through the extension services to change planting practices and varieties so that they can make more money."

For example, in September 2007 the first La Nina watch was issued to advise the winter hay farmers that a drought was expected. If irrigation was not an option, then the odds of a cash crop for forage farmers was very unlikely.

Farmers throughout the region rely on the short-term climate forecasts by SECC to make decisions on peanuts, cotton, corn and strawberries, among other crops. SECC has a Web site, www.agclimate.org, that provides climate and crop predictions for each county in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

At FSU, the research is conducted at the Center For Ocean Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) in the R.M. Johnson Building at Innovation Park. COAPS houses nearly 50 scientists, technical and administration staff, and students. COAPS conducts research in climate modeling, ocean modeling, quality control of weather data from ships, satellite oceanography and short-term climate forecasting.