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Prepare Your Farm or Ranch Before Drought Strikes

Having a good drought plan in place can help your operation weather even the most severe drought conditions. Your plan should be part of a comprehensive conservation plan that considers the kinds and conditions of all of your resources, and consider how crops, forage, and other resources have reacted to drought in the past.

Precipitation is the largest single determinant of drought. Temperature and other climate elements are also important. It is not uncommon for drought periods to be accompanied by higher summer temperatures. Drought planning involves preparing for not only average conditions, but also extremes. Thus, producers should know the extent of their current drought conditions and what the expectations are for the coming week, month and season. A good knowledge of your location's climate will be indispensable in a successful drought mitigation effort. Your plan should help your operation outlast the extremes of climate.

Here are some ideas on water, land, and crop management for you to consider while creating your drought plan:

Water Management
  • Evaluate all types of irrigation systems appropriate for your operation and choose the one that will help you lose less water to evaporation, percolation, and runoff.
  • Look for ways to make your existing irrigation system more efficient and easier to maintain.
  • Build a water storage system that holds water for use during irrigation season.
  • Store water in ditches along fields.
  • Install water measurement devices that keep track of water use.
  • Use water from deep aquifers instead of surface water.
Land Management Ideas
  • Use conservation tillage (crop residue left on your field after harvest) to increase soil moisture and reduce evaporation.
  • Use conservation practices that reduce runoff and encourage infiltration of water into the soil.
  • Closely monitor soil moisture. (Ask your local NRCS office for a complimentary copy of the agency publication "Estimating Soil Moisture by Feel and Appearance.")
  • Maintain and establish riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed waterways, and other types of conservation buffers near streams and other sources of water.
  • Know your animals' forage needs. Contract early to make sure you will have enough hay during dry times or find alternative feed sources.
  • Raise animals that do not consume large quantities of water.
  • Cull herds according to a schedule that will maximize your profits.
Crop Management Ideas
  • Plant crops that withstand dryness, hold water, and reduce the need for irrigation.
  • Rotate crops in ways that increase the amount of water that enters the soil.
  • Shift to cropping systems that are less water dependent than your current system.

For technical assistance to put these ideas into action, contact your local NRCS office.

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