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Vilsack: Farmers Must Respond To Rising Temperatures

The political debate over the causes of climate change will go on. And on.

But as far as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is concerned, farmers, foresters and ranchers need to respond right now to the impact of climate change on their businesses.

"This problem is not going to go away on its own," Vilsack said Wednesday during a speech at the National Press Club. "You're going to see crops produced in one area no longer able to be produced, unless we mitigate and adapt now."

Vilsack said that higher temperatures have allowed invasive species, such as the pine bark beetle, to destroy trees and crops. The heat also has stirred up more severe storms and damaging droughts, he said.

Earlier this year, a U.S. Department of Agriculture report projected that average temperatures in the main U.S. growing regions may rise as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit over the next four decades. In that kind of heat, "you're going to see a lot more stress" on crops, livestock and forests, he said.

With that report in mind, the USDA is stepping up its efforts to find coping strategies. For example, it will help develop more drought-resistant seed technologies, and promote practices that curtail soil erosion while conserving water, Vilsack said.

In addition, USDA is setting up seven "Regional Climate Hubs" to act as agriculture extension offices. At the hubs, farmers, ranchers and foresters will be able to get the latest "science-based risk management" advice about how to cope with changes in temperatures and insects, Vilsack said.

"We need to be ahead of the game," he said.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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