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University of Oklahoma Research Team Helps Weather-Weary Ag Industry

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summer storm clouds over wheat field
Jan 11, 2020

University of Oklahoma Research Team Helps Weather-Weary Ag Industry

NORMAN, OKLA. – You don’t have to look far to find news, opinions and studies about our world’s changing climate and its effects on humans. But what is less accessible is how a changing climate impacts beef cattle production. A team of scientists and researchers from across the region set out to answer this and other questions during the Great Plains Grazing project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jeff Basara is an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology and School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science who was a project investigator and team leader during the five-year study. The project consisted of teams from four universities, the USDA and the Noble Research Institute. Basara and five OU graduate students focused on climate variability, including drought and excessive rainfall, how and when those extremes occur, and associated impacts on the agricultural industry.

“We know precipitation variability is a key factor agricultural producers must consider to successfully run their industry,” Basara said. “Our research showed precipitation variability has been rapidly increasing over the years, and we wanted to clearly convey this important research to producers so they could better recognize the environmental changes and adjust to it.”

The USDA hopes to use the research and findings of Basara, his student team and other researchers, to develop decision support tools to help farmers and ranchers learn more about climate effects, plan for and improve future operations, and continue to succeed in the industry.

Though the research on the Great Plains Grazing project has concluded, its impact on the industry and student researchers continues.

Among the graduate students on Basara’s team are Paul Flanigan and Jordan Christian. Flanigan, now a post-doctoral research associate at the High Plains Regional Climate Center at the University

of Nebraska, focused on extremes of precipitation (floods versus droughts) and how they impact the Great Plains region. Christian, a current doctoral student at OU, conducted flash drought research.

As a late addition to the team, Christian valued learning from the other specialists on the team, and he now emphasizes interdisciplinary work in his current research.

“Instead of solely focusing on one topic or aspect of a project, I now incorporate a variety of expertise into my research and reporting,” Christian said. “Gathering several perspectives helps solidify the knowledge base so we can determine more accurate, long-term solutions.”

Flanigan agrees that his current work is influenced by his role on Basara’s research team. The methods he used to develop research processes and learn new topics while working on the Great Plains Grazing project have been instrumental to his post-doctoral work.

“Working on this specific project, I learned a great deal about the impact of precipitation extremes in the Great Plains region,” Flanigan said. “But I also learned the importance of gathering data from a variety of field experts, and those are valuable standards I now use in my current work.”

In addition to improving processes and efficiencies in the agricultural industry through increased environmental knowledge, the team’s efforts and discoveries earned several national awards. The team and project were selected for a Partnership Award for Multistate Efforts by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and were recognized for their “outstanding efforts to strengthen the stewardship of private lands through technology and research.” The team also received the 2019 Research, Education, and Economics Under Secretary’s Award from the USDA.

Basara hopes to build upon the work and accomplishments of the Great Plains Grazing project to make a greater impact on the agricultural industry.

“The knowledge we learned from the Great Plains Grazing project was just the beginning,” Basara said. “With the foundational support of the USDA and determination of our team, we can start to help an entire industry improve and thrive for generations to come.”