Computers are awe-inspiring devices that enable us to identify an unknown weed or find the best nearby place to have dinner in seconds. Computers can do complicated calculations quickly and accurately. What they cannot do however, is tell us what questions are worth asking and how much time and treasure we should put into answering them.
This week I am attending the first Midwest Climate and Agriculture Workshop. The workshop is organized and/or sponsored by the Midwest Regional Climate Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Agriculture, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
The value of this workshop is that it brings together climate scientists, soil scientists, agronomists, Extension specialists and educators, risk managers and others. Our hosts asked us to share climate-related questions pertaining to our work . Michigan State University Extension educator Mark Longstroth asked several detailed questions clearly demonstrating hand-in-glove relationship between fruit production, weather, and climate. His questions dealt with small changes in wind speed and direction that affect the distribution/drift of different pesticides; changes in wind speed and dew point that affect frost damage to crops; and of course, changes in precipitation timing, form, and quantity in the short- and long-term.
Extension educators like Mark can integrate a large amount of information quickly and in ways that are most useful to farmers, agricultural advisors, and other “end-users” of science. Similarly, they can present the needs of farmers so that scientists and agencies can apply their skills in ways that are most likely to get incorporated into farmer decision-making.
While we need computer models and decision support tools to help us make sense of the massive amount of information available to us, we still need talented, experienced people to help us understand the right questions and put that information into a human context. Particularly with complex and sometimes contentious conversations about agriculture and climate, it’s great to see that the power of Extension educators and specialists is being tapped to translate science to success.