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News Release

Healthy Soil Mitigates the Impacts of Drought

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is helping to mitigate impacts of drought across the nation. With good drought plans and conservation systems, farmers are better equipped to manage dry and other extreme weather.

“We may not be able to control the weather, but through good stewardship like focusing on soil health, farmers can prepare for droughts and reduce crop losses and potential food shortages,” said Karen Woodrich, State Conservationist for the USDA-NRCS in Kentucky.

Before extreme weather occurs – be it drought, flood, hot, cold – farmers should proactively manage their land by implementing conservation practices that reduce soil erosion and improve soil health, she added.

Kentucky was hit hard by the drought in 2012. The extreme heat and low precipitation challenged Kentucky farmers.  Planning now can prepare landowners for future weather extremes and ensure the sustainability of agriculture production in the state.

The ultimate goal of conservation programs offered by NRCS is to reduce soil erosion and improve landowners’ soil quality. “Healthy soil is less susceptible to erosion, better able to store water through extended drought periods and more resilient,” said John Graham, Soil Health Specialist with NRCS in Kentucky.

Below are a few drought tips from NRCS experts:

Cropland:

  1. Minimize tillage as much as possible – no tillage is best
  2. Keep soil covered (maximize organic matter/residue on the soil surface)
  3. Maximize live roots in the soil- heal soil pore space allowing for water infiltration and storage.
  4. For crops that take supplemental nitrogen – scale back nitrogen to expected yield.  Use cover crop mixtures containing legumes to naturally “fix” nitrogen in the soil.  Apply thin layers of animal waste to crop fields to increase organic matter and feed soil structure building microbes (apply animal waste as recommended in an approved nutrient management plan).  Implement plant diversity in the crop rotation to heal the soil microbial food web and maximize natural nutrient cycling in the soil.  Include plants that are warm season grasses, warm season broadleaves, cool season grasses and cool season broadleaves. 
  5. If rain isn’t expected, inject fertilizer so it comes into contact with more soil moisture

Pastureland:

  1. Have a drought plan in place and follow it
  2. Don’t overgraze.  Follow a grazing management plan for prescribed grazing.
  3. Find alternative feeds and forages.  (Example: When possible grow summer annual cover crop mixtures to be grazed during summer slump of traditional cool season pasture species.)
  4. Improve water resources
  5. Cull herds (choose the best)

Visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1049264.pdffor a healthy, productive soils checklist for growers. More information is also available at www.ky.nrcs.usda.gov.

Read here for more drought information: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/home/?cid=stelprdb1048530

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