May 19 , 2006
Citing widespread drought conditions all across the Lone Star State, Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke recently voiced his support for a House resolution that will improve forecasting capabilities and make drought information widely available to all citizens.
The National Integrated Drought Information Act of 2006, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), will help establish a national early warning system for drought conditions to assist lawmakers at all levels of government, agricultural producers and all citizens in making more timely decisions to reduce drought impacts and related costs. If approved, it also earmarks $94 million over the next six years to assist in the system's implementation.
"This legislation will be of significant benefit to agricultural producers as well as the various state and federal agencies working to address weather monitoring systems," Dierschke said.
Although adept at providing timely and accurate short-term forecasts, Dierschke said current weather information systems do little to prepare farmers and ranchers for the impact of extended periods of drought or weather-related disasters.
"By the time the news of a rain front is reported, decisions have been made, crops have been lost and economic disaster becomes a companion of the natural disaster," he said.
In Texas alone, drought-related damages cost the state's agriculture industry an estimated $1 billion in damages in 2005, losses that were only magnified by the million-acre wildfires sweeping across the Texas Panhandle in March. And while recent rains over some parts of the state have provided welcome relief, the state as a whole remains in a severe drought situation, Dierschke said.
"HR 5136 is an investment in new technology and systems that will benefit the nation far beyond an individual farm or ranch," he said. "But speaking on behalf of those farmers and ranchers, Congressman Hall's bill will certainly help us prepare for an all too uncertain future."
According to Cong. Hall, HR 5136 would be an integrated system that enables local, state and national leaders to be more proactive in their approach to droughts.
"While we cannot stop nature, we can do a better job of predicting, monitoring and mitigating this devastating problem," Hall said. "The bill that I have introduced will coordinate drought efforts between local, state and federal entities and provide decision makers with the best tools to manage our natural resources."
The bill designates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the lead agency to devise this integrated system, and directs NOAA to build a national drought early warning system, provide an interactive drought information delivery system,and designate mechanisms for improved interaction with the public.
"This bill will hopefully improve our analysis of conditions, provide us more accurate seasonal forecasts and equip us with a better understanding of the climate interactions that produce droughts," Hall explained.