Data and Decision-making Support

Climate change is expected to make agricultural production more uncertain as producers adapt to new and changing weather patterns and new and changing agricultural markets. Decision support refers to the provision of scientific information and tools to USDA agencies, stakeholders and producers to improve decision making. ERS research can provide the economic analysis on which decision support relies, as well as provide insights to help target scarce decision support dollars to improve net benefits.

Decision-support resources can be targeted at three broad categories: (1) monitoring, reporting, discussion and planning that uses state-of-the-science syntheses and assessments by decision makers, stakeholders, the media, and the general public (2) management decisions (i.e. climate adaptations) undertaken by agricultural producers, and managers of natural resources and climate services; and (3) climate change policy formulation, program development, and program implementation. Each of these categories has a unique set of stakeholders and requires different decision-support tools.

Early-warning systems for plant diseases are valuable when farmers can use their timely forecasts to inform pest management decisions. This study evaluates the benefit of a website that provides real-time, county-level information to farmers on the spread of soybean rust. Results suggest that such information is valuable, depending on farmers' perceptions of the forecast's accuracy. As pest invasions become more common due to a changing climate, the value of this type of decision support tool may increase.

ERS is actively involved in the development and dissemination of data to facilitate climate change research and decision-making by a wide variety of stakeholders. For instance, ERS participated in the development and 2014 rollout of the Food Resilience theme on Climate.Data.Gov—a data portal designed to help communities and individuals plan for the risks of drought, floods, and other climate-change-related impacts. The food resilience theme focuses on Food Production, Food Distribution, Food Safety and Nutrition, and International Food Security. ERS provides key data sources to support these topics, including the agricultural baseline database, commodity costs and returns, U.S. and international agricultural productivity, Foreign Agricultural Trade, U.S. Food Security, and Food expenditures datasets.

ERS researchers also participated in workshops to establish research priorities for the Sun Grant Regional Biomass Feedstock Partnership under the Sun Grant Initiative (SGI). SGI research includes field trials and crop modeling to evaluate production potential of herbaceous and woody biomass crops. The research effort is developing biomass production maps for the conterminous United States to give a national assessment of regional suitability for biomass crops. ERS interests included the economic viability of alternative crops and land use change impacts of their adoption.

Related resources include: