National Drought Mitigation Center


NDMC and Drought Learning Network partners use podcasts to reach agricultural producers and resource managers

August 25, 2022

As severely dry conditions gripped northern New Mexico in the spring, producers contended with minimal forage production, reduced crop yields and plant die offs. Ongoing drought in the region has also impacted air quality, recreation, fire risk and water availability. May 30, 2022. Photo submitted via CMOR.

Climate service providers and experts have developed increasingly advanced tools for monitoring and forecasting drought conditions. But for agricultural producers and resource managers, those web-based tools can be hard to access when they’re on the move. To fill this gap, members of the Southwest Drought Learning Network have experimented with new podcast productions that can help communicate relevant climate and weather information to a mobile audience.

The Drought Discussion podcast was co-developed this summer by the National Drought Mitigation Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southwest Climate Hub. Since July, the podcast has aired every two weeks, providing seasonal outlooks over the Southwest and Southern Plains for precipitation, drought conditions and forage production, using the Grassland Productivity Forecast tool (Grass-Cast). “It’s essentially like your weather forecast but for a forage-focused seasonal outlook,” said Skye Aney, program manager for the Southwest Climate Hub.

Aney says the idea for the podcast came out of conversations within the Southwest Drought Learning network, a peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing network founded in 2020.

Two working groups within the network contribute to the podcasts. “The Drought in Agriculture team was trying to get information out. The Projections to People team was trying to make tools more user-friendly,” explained Aney. “Together we came up with this idea.”

The network shares stories, management practices and information to capture lessons learned from previous droughts to increase drought resilience across the region. Finding opportunities, like the podcast, to make the valuable resources produced by network members accessible to a broader audience was exactly the kind of thing the network was designed to do.

“One of the beautiful things about the Drought Learning Network is that it’s this collaboration of people from many different agencies,” said Caiti Steele, the Southwest Climate Hub coordinator and one of the podcast’s hosts. “It’s this fantastic thing that you have a lot of different people bringing a lot of different skills and perspectives.”

Tonya Bernadt, outreach and education specialist for the NDMC and the program’s other host, agrees. “Had it not been for the learning network collaboration, this may not have happened,” Bernadt said. For her, the podcast’s primary value is being able to get the word out about tools like Grass-Cast to land managers “while they’re in their tractor, car, or anyplace.”

By having to translate information in a purely audio medium, Aney highlights an additional benefit of the podcast, saying that it’s forced them to think about the accessibility of the resources they provide. “It’s great to put a tool out there and say you should use it, but the actual experience of having to use it yourself, having to interpret it, is very valuable,” he said.

Come September, as the growing season wraps up, the team plans to switch up its format to monthly episodes focused on broader topics like groundwater recharge and wells.

That approach is modeled on another successful podcast that’s come out of the Drought Learning Network. Come Rain or Shine has been airing monthly since July 2020, with longer discussions on climate science and adaptation focused on innovative practices and real-world examples. Episodes have covered everything from atmospheric rivers and extreme heat to desalination, public health and beef production. Last year, they did a mini-series on drought and how it intersects with resource management, mental health and other issues.

“It also started up as a way to try and reach an alternate audience, not just the people coming to Drought Learning Network meetings,” said Aney of the podcast, pointing out that, while they focus on the Southwest, episodes have been downloaded across the world. Come Rain or Shine is a collaboration between the Southwest Climate Hub and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (SW CASC), another key partner within the Drought Learning Network. It is cohosted by Emile Elias, the director of the Southwest Climate Hub, and Sarah LeRoy, SW CASC Science Communications Coordinator.

The podcast producers say they’ve learned a lot from making Come Rain or Shine that’s been valuable as they’ve developed Drought Discussion. Steele says they’re particularly aware of the importance of recruiting agricultural producers to participate and talk about their experiences. “People want to hear what their peers are doing, what their colleagues are doing, what their neighbors are doing,” said Steele. Both she and Aney encourage listeners of both podcasts to submit feedback and suggestions for topics to cover, and to reach out if they want to get involved.

“Having had the experience of growing Come Rain or Shine, I know it’s hard to get a podcast off the ground,” said Aney of Drought Discussion. “But we’re really excited to see this happening.” Bernadt, of the NDMC, seconded that comment, stressing that “every little bit helps in times of drought.”

Listen to the Drought Discussion podcast:

-- Leah Campbell, NDMC Communications