Climate field specialist’s workload increasing

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Farm Forum

Weather isn’t just small talk for Laura Edwards.

In addition to the title of South Dakota State University Extension climate field specialist, Edwards is also now the acting state climatologist.

She’s had the second title for about a month and a half, she said.

Edwards fills a hole left by Dennis Todey, who now works for U.S Department of Agriculture in Ames, Iowa. One of Todey’s fellow department members also recently left.

“I’m kinda three people falling into one,” she said. “Hopefully, we will get to hire more staff.”

Edwards focuses more on the Extension side of the job. She’s based in Aberdeen, so she won’t be teaching any classes at SDSU.

“I would like to see them hire a new faculty (member). But that takes a little time,” she said.

Edwards’ new responsibilities are similar to those of her field specialist job.

“Still tying climate and agriculture together,” Edwards said.

She tries to make the information she gathers usable by farmers and producers so they can make informed decisions. That includes gathering weather that is expected in the next week, seasonal trends and even looking at how El Nino could affect the area, she said.

She also works with federal agencies and meets with Extension partners to keep communication open across the state and region.

“That’s a real strong piece of the job: communicating,” she said.

A lot of Edwards’ job requires her to work closely with other departments and with producers.

“I don’t work in a bubble,” she said. “I really rely and try to work closely with colleagues so they can use the information. One of the parts about the job I like is that direct interaction with farmers.”

She already has climatologist-related projects she’s working on.

“I inherited all (Todey’s) projects,” she said.

One of them is developing decision support tools for farmers in the corn belt, including an irrigation scheduler. It doesn’t apply much to the Aberdeen area, she said.

She’s also taken over a nitrogen management project.

There are also some new undertakings in the works that might affect the region.

“I just heard word a couple weeks ago that we had a couple projects started through Bureau of Land Management to look at climate change on tribal lands,” she said.

They would look at the vulnerabilities and risks in relation to drought conditions and water management for four tribes, she said.

She will also be working on a proposal for the USDA to develop a climate masters program to train volunteers to be more knowledgeable and aware of the climate and its effects.

“It’s a regional proposal, but I’m the lead investigator for SDSU and the region,” she said.

Edwards will help plan and design what the program might look like, including how people will be trained.