Opinion: Improving Drought Forecasting for our Agriculture Producers

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By Senator John Thune

South Dakota farmers and ranchers are all too familiar with the harsh temperatures of our hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. In 2012, South Dakota producers experienced the worst drought in nearly half a century, facing devastating loss of crops, pasture, rangeland, and forage, which resulted in more than 80 percent of all U.S. counties classified as “abnormally” to “exceptionally” dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

 

Lets Talk Food

In response to the critical impact drought has on our nation's food supply, the federal government in 2006 authorized the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) to provide vital drought information to farmers, ranchers, and other industries affected by weather conditions. Since 2006, government agencies have worked hard to develop a long-term plan for drought monitoring, forecasting, research, and education. This important initiative has provided farmers and ranchers with an “early warning system” of timely and accurate drought information, which can save producers and state and local governments money through more effective mitigation and response efforts.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the NIDIS, I cosponsored the Drought Information Act and worked to pass the bill out of committee last year. This legislation is important because it will extend the NIDIS for another five years and improve the interactive “early warning system,” as well as an integrated weather monitoring and forecasting system. On February 3, 2014, the Senate passed this legislation by unanimous consent and the House of Representatives just passed their companion bill. I anticipate this legislation will be sent to the president soon for his approval, which will ensure we are better prepared for future droughts and reduce uncertainty and financial losses for South Dakota farmers and ranchers.

Our farmers and ranchers play an important role in making our state's economy a success. Accurate forecasting tools, sound insurance options, and timely financial assistance after disaster strikes are critical to keeping our agriculture industry moving forward. As a member of both the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues to increase coordination between the agriculture industry and NIDIS to ensure our farmers and ranchers have the necessary tools to plan and prepare for future droughts.

 

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