Florida State receives $2.5 million USDA grant to develop forecasts for farmers

From left: Raymond Bye (director of federal relations and economic development at FSU), Congressman Allen Boyd, James O'Brien (emeritus Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Meterology and Oceanography)

U.S. Congressman Allen Boyd (D-North Florida) announced that The Florida State University has received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC) to develop improved methods to forecast droughts and other extreme climate events in the southeastern states.

The forecasts will help agricultural, forest and natural resource managers to reduce risks of losses and environmental damage. In addition, the SECC will develop new partnerships and methods for incorporating climate forecasts into agricultural and water policy decisions. The Agricultural Extension Service managed by the University of Florida is a key partner.

“Agriculture is one of Florida’s largest industries, and for more than a decade the Southeastern Climate Consortium has helped strengthen the contributions the agriculture sector makes to our local and national economies,” Boyd said. “I commend FSU for their leadership in the Consortium and for the invaluable research they have provided farmers throughout the Southeast region.”

Boyd joined James O’Brien, emeritus Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Oceanography and former director of the FSU Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS), and Raymond Bye, director of federal relations and economic development at FSU, at COAPS to make the announcement.

FSU is the lead institution in the SECC, which also involves researchers from the University of Florida, University of Miami, University of Georgia, Auburn University, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, North Carolina State University and Clemson University. O’Brien is the grant’s principal investigator and leads the FSU team.

This project provides a bridge between our climate researchers and our farmers, leading to larger crops and more productive farms,” said FSU President Eric J. Barron. “We are thankful for Congressman Boyd’s leadership in Washington and his work in securing funding for this very important effort.”

The grant continues work begun in 2003 to develop new methods to predict the consequences of climate variability — including rainfall, temperature and wild fires —for agricultural crops, forests and water resources. This research provides critical and cutting-edge information to farmers that helps them better adapt their crops to drought, hurricanes and other inclement weather systems.

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

“The SECC strives to deliver climate forecasts to farmers early enough for decisions to be made,” O’Brien said. “Explanations after an event, like a drought, are knowledge but, in advance, farming practices can be altered and money can be made.”

Bye thanked Boyd for his support of the project. Since 2003, Boyd has secured more than $16 million to continue the research projects under way at the consortium.

“From the outset when FSU, UF and Miami started talking about this collaboration, Mr. Boyd was there to endorse and support it,” Bye said. “The effort has grown into a model for the USDA to replicate in other regions around the country. The scientists —working with leaders in extension services — have come up with ways to improve crop yields. Their innovations, combined with Mr. Boyd’s efforts, have made this a very successful project.

At FSU, the research is conducted at COAPS in the R.M. Johnson Building. COAPS houses nearly 50 scientists, technical and administration staff and students. The center conducts research in climate modeling, ocean modeling, quality control of weather data from ships, satellite oceanography and short-term climate forecasting.