What the heck's a climate hub?

Corvallis, Oregon is now home to the federal government's Northwest regional climate hub. Why it matters.
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Corvallis, Oregon is now home to the federal government's Northwest regional climate hub. Why it matters.

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that they would be establishing seven regional climate hubs, to help agricultural producers and rural America mitigate the effects of climate change. The announcement contained enough environmental buzzwords to make Seattleites foam at the mouth, but it left many wondering — what exactly is a climate hub?

Like a food hub or transportation hub, climate hubs will be established as a way of sharing resources and streamlining efforts to respond to climate change. A statement from the USDA blog by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explained the need for “new and better tools to respond to and prepare for the challenges of drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressure.”

The Pacific Northwest Hub, based in Corvallis, Ore., includes agricultural regions in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. Regional hub leader Bea Van Horne, who works with the USDA Forest Service, helped demystify what the hub will actually do.

“Within the agricultural sector,” she explains, “you see things focused at the local level, but when you have a regional issue like climate change, there is a call for some regional coordination, to make sure that regional information is getting down to users.”

That coordination will not fund new research, but help disseminate projected agricultural data on things like rainfall or soil erosion. When a farmer or rancher sets out to invest in a new fruit tree crop, the hub will help them predict what soil type they might need, or which variety might flourish. 

“We can’t say exactly what next summer or next winter will bring, but over a longer period of time we can be quite confident about some of the climate information we have,” Van Horne explained.

And we ought to do everything possible to protect our region’s agricultural production. According to a USDA press release, — the Northwest grows over half of the nation’s potato crop, 17 percent of its wheat crop and produces 11 percent of U.S. milk. Timber, fish and game are also significant markets.

The regional fabric of the hub network makes sense — the challenges to citrus producers in Florida may be irrelevant to wheat farmers in Eastern Washington.

The hubs will partner with already established institutions leading the work, like The University of Oregon, The Pacific Northwest Research Station, Agricultural Research Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Services.

So what’s on top of the list of climate foes in the Pacific Northwest? Drought.

Don’t be fooled by the rain likely pouring outside your window. Nationwide drought has had serious repercussions on the environment here.  

Unlike the dry, post-apocalyptic drought in the California Central Valley, otherwise known as the ‘salad bowl of the world’, the USDA reports that reduced rainfall and snowmelt has caused serious ripple effects across the Northwest. These departures from well-established weather patterns have given way to outbreaks of insects and pests, and stressed forest vegetation.

Phil Mote, Director at the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, says that warming temperatures can lead to a drought, predictable months in advance. Consistently dwindling snowpack in the mountains, he says, causes water to flow down to streams earlier, and results in less water flowing during the growing season, which is crucial for irrigation.

“Snowmelt is our reservoir,” explains Van Horne.

Since the announcement, the Pacific Northwest Climate Hub has begun the initial stages of gathering information from agricultural producers in the region. The hub will not be fully up and running until next fiscal year.  


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About the Authors & Contributors

Anna Goren

Anna Goren

Anna Goren is a writer living in Seattle, WA focusing on food and social justice. She writes a regular column for The Seattle Globalist, and has worked on many aspects of food issues as a cook, farm apprentice, food bank employee and community organizer. She blogs about her leftovers at www.tuppups.com.