deployment of the Weather Ready Farms program in Nebraska | Nebraska today

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Nebraska is probably as well known for its ever-changing climate as it is for its agriculture, and Nebraska Extension is rolling out a new program to help agricultural producers prepare for weather and climate events.

Weather-Ready Farms aims to help producers build their farm’s resilience against extreme weather events and disasters. The program is currently being piloted on nine farms in southeastern Nebraska, placing a project mentor with each to assess their operations, put a plan in place, and provide training opportunities on everything from practices and new farm safety technologies.

The effort is led by Nathan Mueller, extension educator in cropping systems; Candace Hulbert, disaster education and visioning weather-ready agriculture with AmeriCorps; and Melissa Bartels, Water and Integrated Cropping Systems Extension Educator.

“The overarching goal is to prepare farmers for extreme weather events like hail, drought, floods and extreme winds,” Hulbert said. “But it also includes climate mitigation strategies like carbon sequestration. Another goal is to create a network of farmers and ranchers who can support each other during and after a disaster.

The program, which culminates in a Weather Ready Farms designation, lasts approximately two years. Each farmer or rancher begins with a self-assessment, followed by an on-farm assessment, which is completed by a project mentor. Both assessments give project managers enough information to work with the producer to put a plan in place. Individual Learning Plans outline how producers can achieve their resilience goals. Once a plan is developed, the program moves into the education phase, where farmers and ranchers can attend a variety of free or low-cost webinars, field days, and lectures offered by extension. or designated educational partners, linked to the new practices they are adopting to achieve its objectives.

“We focus on research-based practices,” Mueller said. “A grower might have embraced no-till, but maybe they haven’t incorporated cover crops yet, and we know that has resilience benefits. Or maybe they use irrigation, but have they incorporated moisture sensors or gauges that monitor daily crop water usage?

“We leverage our experts, resources and equipment to deliver an individualized program that will benefit the farms we work with. Farmers are small business owners, and we help them make key decisions that focus on profitability, but also minimize potential risk. »

Dylan and Dani Spatz, who own a farm near Prague, are part of the pilot program and have found the individualized approach helpful in making their operation more resilient and sustainable.

“We had the floods in 2019, and luckily we weren’t terribly affected by it, but this year we’re looking at drought, so those extremes change from year to year, and I think it’s important to have plans in place to be prepared when weather events occur,” Dani said. “We wanted to have a contingency plan in place to be good stewards of the land that we have, but also that it will be usable for our daughters, if they wish, to have the opportunity to cultivate.”

As part of its focus on disaster preparedness, the program also incorporates on-farm safety, such as installing first aid kits and fire extinguishers at several locations and working with the local emergency manager to trace the field locations.

“What we discovered in our initial pilot project was that 80% of the farms we worked with had not thought to map their fields for emergency responders in the event of an accident or emergency” , Bartels said. “EMTs or other first responders will receive a call to a specific address, but if a farmer is injured in a field, they must be able to locate that farmer’s whereabouts.

The Spatz agreed.

“Going through the initial questionnaire, one was about having emergency protocols in place for each farm field and how to get there, and I had never thought of that,” said Dani said.

Program discussions and planning began in 2015. Efforts were hampered by the 2019 floods and the covid-19 pandemic, but both events underscored the importance of another facet of the program, contingency planning.

“We’re going into transition planning and making sure those plans are in place,” Mueller said. “We also work with them on securing their documentation. They may have hard copies of deeds, financial documents, and other documents, but are they saved offsite in cloud storage? A tornado or flood could hit your farm and cause you to lose your hard copies and your computer, but this redundancy protects them against the loss of important information in the event of a disaster.

Having transition plans in place is also important, as data shows the majority of agricultural producers in Nebraska are over 60, Bartels added.

“And the pandemic, which was hitting everyone, made it clear how important it is to have transition plans in place, because if someone is in hospital, who has the legal authority to make decisions ?” she says.

The program will expand to include more farms and ranches in Nebraska, and Nebraska Extension is also working with extension organizations in other states, including South Dakota, to bring the program into other regions. .

“We’ve built the framework for the program, so the program is ready to roll out in other places,” Hulbert said.

For more information about the program, contact Hulbert at [email protected]

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