U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency and others in the federal government are looking to improve drought forecasts.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do about drought,” Vilsack says. “What you can do is forecast it more effectively and in a more timely way, so we put together a ‘Drought Resiliency Task Force’ at the federal level. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the USDA are combining and leading this effort and we are actually working on better forecasting models.”

The latest forecast from the federal government suggests the drought in California and the southwest United States will continue, while pockets of the Midwest, including much of Iowa, are predicted to emerge from drought this spring. After the devastating drought of 2012 which lingered in many areas last year, Vilsack says his agency is financing research into how farmers can better use the water that is available.

“We’ve just recented announced a $30 million challenge grant to universities, five years of grant monies to take a look at water and how we might be able to utilize water  more efficiently and effectively in agricultural production, so we’ll obviously get benefits from that,” Vilsack says. “We have a series of smaller grants under our Conservation Grant Program that’s really focused on looking at how forage can be improved, how irrigation systems can be improved.”

The USDA is also establishing “Climate Change Hubs” in five locations around the country, including one in Ames, which Vilsack says will “evaluate the vulnerabilities, and create mitigation and adaption strategies, and then we have a series of smaller programs.”

Passage of the new Farm Bill in January also re-activated disaster programs for livestock producers that had lapsed last fall.  According to the latest forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 57 percent of Iowa is considered to be in a moderate or severe drought, but the agency said much of the state will see that drought end by mid-June.