Climate Change and Water for Agriculture Education for Extension Professionals: A Webinar Series

Climate Change and Water for Agriculture Education for Extension Professionals: A Webinar Series

Final Report

Link to Climate Change and Water for Agriculture Webinars


This project addresses the NCRWN goals of building capacity of universities to address multi‐state water‐related issues, while targeting the focus area of climate change and adaptation.

Arbuckle et al. (2013a, 2013b) show that about two‐thirds of farmers in the U.S. Corn Belt believe that climate change is occurring, due to either human (anthropogenic) or natural causes, or both. Only 40 percent of those believe human causes can be attributed. The National Climate Assessment (NCA, 2014) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2014) both detail strong agreement among climatologists and high likelihood of human‐ caused climate change globally, which is not consistent with farmer beliefs.

Most Extension and ag advisors do not have an educational background in meteorology or climatology, as they are more likely to hold degrees in agronomy, soil science, animal science, or other related fields. This may be the root of their discomfort with the topic, as Wilke et al. (in press) found in their surveys of ag advisors. In general, Extension and ag advisors are similar in their climate change beliefs as the producers they serve, which is more skeptical than the scientific consensus among climatologists.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies have been studying climate change and its impacts on all sectors of the economy (agriculture, energy, commerce, transportation, etc.), and are making strides to follow the President’s Climate Action Plan (2013). Many federal agencies have established regional centers or groups to address concerns and issues at the local or regional scale. The USDA’s Regional Climate Hubs are among those groups, with a particular focus on utilizing Extension to provide knowledge and advice to agricultural producers across the Nation. Three USDA Regional Climate Hubs are active in the NCRWN states, and they will be strong partners in this effort. For these reasons, it is increasingly important that Extension professionals become familiar and comfortable with climate science as it pertains to agricultural production.


The first issue that will be addressed with this project will be to increase the understanding of climate science. Then climate change projections and impacts to the agricultural sector in the NC region will be presented and discussed. The target audience is Extension professionals who work with agricultural systems in the NC region, and will highlight field crops and grazing and livestock systems.

Water management in agricultural systems in the NC region will be the focus of this project. Farmers and producers are already adapting to short‐term weather, climate and water extremes (Haigh, 2015; Morton, 2015), but the goal here is to encourage producers to consider longer term risk management in light of projected climate change impacts. The NCA (2014) outlined several water‐related risks in the Great Plains and Midwest regions related to water, for example: increasing extreme precipitation events and flooding; reduced water quality; increase in erosion; decline in water quality in the Great Lakes; increase in population leading to increase in demand for water; and more intense droughts in the Great Plains. Temperatures are warming overall, but there are seasonal and sub‐regional geographic differences to account for. All of these (and more) are factors that Extension staff can understand, but perhaps never had the opportunity to learn.

In the Sustainable Corn CAP ( and Grazing CAP ( projects funded by USDA NIFA, some adaptation and mitigation practices in corn‐based cropping systems and grazing systems have been considered for research, as well as methods for educating or training our peers in Extension. Recommendations will be forthcoming as far as best management practices for adapting to or mitigating impacts due to a changing climate in these agricultural systems, which include water management for quality and quantity. Our proposed project is based in part by research and Extension involvement in these large projects, and building off of preliminary recommendations from the Corn CAP in particular.

Building off of lessons learned and collaborations with the Corn CAP, Grazing CAP and the USDA Regional Climate Hubs, webinars will be offered to address the following topics:

  • What is weather? What is climate? Historical climate trends in the NC region, historical extremes.
  • Projected future climate trends and extremes in the NC region. Impacts on agricultural systems, water management.
  • Economics of water management practices that can adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts, e.g. tile drainage, bioreactors, sub-irrigation, irrigation. Role of precision agriculture, climate “big” data, private agriculture/climate data providers (e.g. Climate Corporation, Encirca products).
  • Livestock and grazing, drought management and planning, livestock water supply, risk management (e.g., Pasture, Range, Forage–Rainfall Index Insurance).
  • Using watershed groups as learning communities, the Corn CAP model for Extension engagement on the topic of climate change, climate change communication with ag audiences (Wilke, in press)

Intended Impacts

As a result of the webinar series, Extension professionals and partners will be more aware of existing water resources and how they relate to weather and climate in North Central region. Additionally, the participants will be empowered to use the new relationships and knowledge gained to improve programming in the water resource program area, particularly impacting the ability of the network to “generate measurable economic, environmental, and social impacts in the short and long‐term, with a focus on watershed planning and climate change and adaptation.”

During each webinar session, there will be a brief survey to assess the value of the information presented, what the attendees learned, and likelihood of the attendees to use the information they learned in their communities. At the conclusion of the webinar series, there will be an evaluation done to assess the entire program as a whole. This final evaluation will be distributed by email and completed online.

The series of webinars then enables Extension personnel and partners in the NC region to build their individual intellectual capacity, recognize peers and specialists that can further their own professional development or community development goals, and adopt strategies for more impactful programming in their area. Short and medium term surveys will assess these metrics. The metrics will be designed to show the precise NCRWN goal of generating “measurable economic, environmental, and social impacts in the short and long‐term, with a focus on watershed planning and climate change and adaptation.”

*View the Regional Climate Team project here, a continuation of this Climate Change and Water for Agriculture Education for Extension Professionals


Laura Edwards
SDSU Extension, Extension Climate Field Specialist