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Aggies are developing a tool to predict the future of Cache Valley agriculture


If you live in the Intermountain West you are probably familiar with drought. Whether your area fell into the category of severe or exceptional or some other adjective last summer, it’s clear that water is in scarce supply in much of the Western US. Climate modeling projects a variety of environmental changes expected in the future of the climate crisis. A group of students at USU are trying to figure out how these will affect agriculture in Cache Valley.

“We want to be able to create a tool that operators, farmers, and ranchers can use if they want to look at what are they growing now? Is it matched for future climate projections? And if not, what's a better match for them so that they can continue in their livelihood and be producers and continue on in that agricultural tradition?” said Kelly.

Patrick Kelly is a PhD student at USU and part of the Climate Adaptation Science Program. Kelly is part of a interdisciplinary team of graduate students in the program including; Emily Burgess, Jace Colby, Mitch Parsons and Ren Weinstock. Their group is using ecological modeling to help producers understand how climate change will affect their industry.

"We're looking at the hard science and the climate projections. So we're using three different forecasts for 2050, 2070, and 2090. Looking at frost free changes, so how many more frost free days are we going to get per year, and then also looking at changes in summer precipitation," said Kelly.

This project is in the development stage and they are focused on building the tool for agricultural production first, and will then look at livestock. The team has also involved an economist, Dr. Tanner McCarthy, to ensure a holistic approach.

“What are the thresholds for what's being produced now? And how are those thresholds going to change? Or how are those crops going to either be better matched or mismatched to these scenarios, but we also understand that people need to make a living, they need to have economic incentives for growing these different crops. So we're also using economic modeling to look at what's the industry been like in the past 30 years for what's currently grown, and what are potential alternative crops,” said Kelly.

Kelly emphasized that agriculture makes up 40% of Utah’s economy and their group hopes this project ensures the viability of that industry for years to come.

Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!